China’s first large home-made passenger aircraft, the C919, has a moved a step closer towards taking to the skies after receiving an airworthiness certificate on September 30.
President Xi Jinping last week met with the C919 project team on the eve of China’s national day, hailing the aircraft as a symbol of self-sufficiency in key strategic sectors — a theme that the upcoming once-in-five-year congress of the ruling Communist Party, which will mark the start of an unprecedented third term for Mr. Xi, is expected to emphasise.
The C919 will still require two further airworthiness certifications, which the plane’s manufacturer, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), expects by the end of the year, when the aircraft is expected to be delivered to Chinese airlines.
Mr. Xi told the project team that having “Chinese airliners fly in the sky embodies the will of our country” and called for “consistent and persistent efforts to achieve greater breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields” to make “solid progress in building China into a manufacturer of quality….on the path to the summit of science and technology”.
The 160-seater narrow-body aircraft is the first large passenger jet manufactured by China, and is being marketed, particularly to airlines in developing countries, as a cost-friendly equivalent to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320.
Chinese airlines themselves mostly run fleets of Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Airbus maintains a large final assembly line in Tianjin, which was the first outside Europe and delivers both A320 and wide-body A330s, with Chinese airlines among its biggest customers in the region.
Chinese manufacturer COMAC’s first passenger aircraft, the 90-seater ARJ-21 (Advanced Regional Jet), an Embraer-type jet which has been flown mostly by airlines in China since 2016, has had few takers overseas. Beijing is hoping the C919 will have more success, with state media reporting it had so far received 28 orders for 815 aircraft, from within China and from abroad.