By: Earnest Jones | 05-05-2017 | News
Photo credit: Jordan Tan |

China's 'C919' Takes Off For Maiden Flight

Boeing and Airbus have faced a huge challenge after China's first large domestically made passenger aircraft completed its maiden flight. The plane was airborne for 90 minutes after which it landed safely back at Pudong airport in Shanghai. The plane marks a key symbol of Beijing's soaring ambitions to enter the global aviation market.

Plans to manufacture the plane kicked off back in 2008. However, the flight was repeatedly pushed back. The state-owned firm Comac has successfully managed to manufacture the plane. The plane carried only its skeleton crew comprising of five pilots and engineers in it Friday’s maiden flight. It took off in front of a crowd of thousands of dignitaries, aviation workers and enthusiasts.

Shortly before the flight, the state television said the plane would fly at an altitude of only 3,000m (9,800 feet), some 7,000m lower than a regular trip, and reach a speed of around 300km/h (186mph).

The C919 is designed to be a direct competitor to Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320.

The test pilot Cai Jun made a statement in an interview that was carried out in March but released on Chinese television shortly before the launch, saying that he had full confidence in the plane. He said that a pilot knows clearly the condition of a plane, adding that he knows very well whether it will work.

Jun also described halting an earlier taxiing test in late 2016 because of a problem with the brakes.

He revealed that after putting the brakes on, the plane started to shake. In response, he had had to argue with the plane's engineers to help refine the design.

The test pilot pointed out that his team's task was to tell them the designers that the plane is not perfect, adding that it has strengths and weaknesses, and they have to make improvements. The single-aisle twin-engine plane has a capacity to seat up to 168 passengers. It will have a range between 4,075 and 5,555km (2,532 - 3,452 miles).

The Chinese media reported that it will cost around $50m, less than half of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. The plane still relies on a wide array of imported technology though, it is for instance powered by engines from French-US supplier CFM International.

Surprisingly, orders have already been placed for more than 500 of the planes, with commitments from 23 customers, mainly Chinese airlines. The main customer is China Eastern Airlines. Europe's aviation safety regulator has started the certification process for the C919 - a crucial step for the aircraft to be successful on the international market. The C919 is a success for China, which has had ambitions to build its own civil aircraft industry since the 1970s. This was after Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, personally backed the project.


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