The first large passenger jet made in China just completed its maiden flight

China’s taking off.
China’s taking off.
Image: Aly Song/Pool Photo via AP
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

China’s first large passenger jet just completed its maiden flight today (May 5), but it will have to wait at least three years before it carries actual passengers.

One year behind the original schedule, the made-in-China C919, manufactured by state-owned company Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), took off from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and completed a 90-minute journey.

The flight puts China in the ranks of the small group of nations like the US and Germany who have developed homegrown large airliners.  Roughly the same size as Boeing’s 737, the 168-seat C919 carried five people including two pilots, a flying observer and two engineers.

Already the second-largest commercial aviation market for passengers in the world, China is expected to surpass the US by 2024. It also wants to move into the global jet market, which is estimated to be worth $2 trillion over the next two decades. Already, COMAC has received 20 orders for the C919 from the US-based aircraft lessor GE Capital Aviation Services, amid a total of 570 orders from domestic and overseas companies. These sales could bring the company as much as $28.5 billion (link in Chinese), according to Shanghai-based financial publication Yicai.

To take the market overseas, however, the C919 still has a long way to go. For one thing, it still has to go through multiple tests, including cold-weather testing (link in Chinese). The company will produce five more models (link in Chinese), with the first one coming in 2019 (link in Chinese). For another, it still lacks certifications for international flights, such as from the US Federal Aviation Administration, which it needs if the C919 wants to fly in US skies.

People in China, though, are cheering the successful first flight. “Few nations in the world have grasped the self-developed technology,” commented Beijing-based user Sun Teijiang (link in Chinese) on Chinese social media site Weibo, “I believe in China’s plane.”  Over 80,000 people (link in Chinese) participated in discussions of a live-streaming of flight on technology giant Tencent’s video site.