First Chinese-designed airliner takes off on maiden commercial flight

The C919 airliner, the first Chinese-designed, on its maiden commercial flight from Shanghai to Beijing on May 28, 2023 (AFP/STR)

The first Chinese-designed airliner, the C919, took off on its maiden commercial flight on Sunday, a turning point for China’s airline industry that has long been keen to compete with its Western rivals.

China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 took off from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport (east) around 10:30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT), according to images from state broadcaster CCTV.

On board the plane, bound for Beijing International Airport, are 130 passengers.

The aircraft is due to land around 1:10 p.m. local time (05:10 GMT), according to the airline’s website.

Footage released by state media showed dozens of passengers gathered at Shanghai airport to admire the sleek white aircraft.

The latter then boarded the aircraft which, after taxiing on the runway, took off.

All passengers received red boarding passes and will be able to enjoy a lavish “themed meal” on board to celebrate the event, CCTV said.

China, which is seeking to become self-sufficient in the technology sector, has invested heavily in the production of this first Chinese-designed airliner.

– Growing demand for flights –

Beijing hopes that the C919 can compete with the most popular foreign aircraft like the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320.

The aircraft is built by the state company Comac, but many parts of the machine come from other countries.

The C919 will be mobilized from Monday for regular routes operated by China Eastern Airlines to connect Shanghai to Chengdu (south), reported CCTV.

“In the future, most passengers will be able to choose to travel on large domestically designed aircraft,” CCTV said.

The first model of this narrow-body aircraft that can carry 164 passengers was officially delivered to the Chinese airline in December 2022.

Zhang Yujin, deputy chief executive of Comac, told the government-backed news outlet The Paper in January that the company had registered more than 1,200 orders for its device.

The state manufacturer planned to increase its annual production capacity to 150 models within five years, Zhang Yujin said at the time.

Asia, and China in particular, are priority objectives for the European Airbus and the American Boeing, which seek to take advantage of the growing demand for flights from a sizeable middle class.

In April, Airbus announced that it would double its production capacity in China and signed an agreement to build a second assembly line in Tianjin (northeast) for the A320.

Tianjin’s first assembly site opened in 2008 and produces four A320s per month. A rate that Airbus hopes to increase to six per month by the end of 2023.

© 2023 AFP

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