After more than a decade of research and development, China’s C919 narrow-body passenger jet has completed its maiden commercial voyage, flying between Shanghai and Beijing.
Flight ‘MU9191’ was operated by China Eastern Airlines and carried 130 excited passengers.
Chinese officials are hopeful the domestically produced airliner will make the country self-reliant in the industry and finally provide some competition to the Boeing (UK) and Airbus (France) market duopoly – the two are the world’s primary large passenger jet manufacturers and account for nearly 99 per cent of all production.
The flight took off from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport at roughly 10:30 am, ten minutes ahead of schedule, according to Chinese state media. The entire trip lasting a little over two hours and the plane was welcomed at Beijing Capital Airport with a ceremonial water salute.
The C919, developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), is expected to go into regular service from the end of May, between Shanghai and the capital city of Sichuan, Chengdu.
The C919 had proven itself a safe and reliable airframe, receiving certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in September last year, Li Yangmin, China Eastern general manager, told attendees at the pre-flight ceremony.
Measuring 38.9-metres long and with a height of 11.95 metres, the C919 belongs to the narrow-body class of airliners and will function in a similar role to Boeing’s 737 or Airbus’s A320 models.
It features eight business and 156 economy class seats, but other floor configurations allow for fewer seats, according to the Chinese state media agency, CCTV.
The three pilots reportedly reached a cruising speed of 957 kilometres per hour or Mach 0.78.
Passengers on board MU9191 were treated to a special in-flight menu of claypot rice, chocolate shortbread, mango pudding and a Shanghai favourite, White Rabbit Creamy Candies.
One passenger, a 14-year-old from Beijing, told media members he was “thrilled” to be part of the occasion, having purchased a return ticket to Shanghai in February this year. The high school student said he had a family member working in the Chinese aviation industry and was aware of the significance of COMAC’s achievement.
According to CCTV, COMAC received an estimated 1 035 orders from several Chinese companies for the C919 since last year. Scaling-up production to match demand will be an incredibly difficult task, according to Industry Minister, Jin Zhuanglong.
Production capacity for the C919 is expected to reach 150 airframes per year by 2028, according to Reuters.
This is a relatively conservative production rate, according to David Yu, a finance expert at the New York University in Shanghai.
While the production rate was still low, the more important objective was getting the current fleet of C919s airborne, said Yu. Adding that new aircraft frequently encounter start-up bugs that require ironing out.