China’s first homegrown passenger plane made its maiden flight on Friday afternoon, to much fanfare.
The world manufacturing superpower has hitched much of its hopes on the 168-seat C919 jet, as its toe into a world dominated by America’s Boeing and Europe’s Airbus.
Made by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), the C919 faced a three-year long delay due to production issues.
The country’s aerospace industry has only recently started to make its own large passenger jets. The country tried to make the defunct Shanghai Y10 in the 1980s but it failed to be viable; more recently, Comac’s ARJ-21 regional airliner made its first commercial flight in 2015.
So on Friday, 3.3 million users on China’s Weibo social network tuned into the official livestream of the flight.
“Before, the dragon [reference to China’s domestically-built aircraft carrier] took to the sea, now the phoenix have gone to the skies! My country is strong!” commented the verified account of a home-appliance company.
Another verified account, belonging to an electronics manufacturer said: “China is the best! Bring our portable charger along on your maiden flight, would you?”
A shoemaker said: “With an aircraft carrier sailing the four seas, and a plane going up the nine skies, isn’t our country strong? Click like for the motherland!”
A long way to go, still
Comac still has a long way to go before it can break Boeing and Airbus’ duopoly, however. Without global certification, Comac can only sell its jets to a few developing economies in South America and Southeast Asia that accept China’s certification standards, reports Reuters.
And so far, the only foreign airline that has bought the C919 is Thailand’s City Airways, which lost its operating certification last year, according to Bloomberg.
“Aviation is a complex market and you need experience over a long time. Boeing has 100 years, Airbus has over 40 years,” Si Jingzhe, an analyst with Sinolink Securities, told Reuters.
Still, China is looking up.
Comac is currently working with Russia’s state-owned United Aircraft to develop a bigger long-haul jet — designated the C929. Both companies said in November that they have started the hunt for suppliers, and they’re aiming to conduct a maiden flight for the C929 in 2022.