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First large Chinese-made passenger jet takes its maiden flight

11 May 2017

In what could be the most significant development in global commercial aviation since the prototype of the first Airbus airliner (the A300) made its maiden flight in late 1972, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China's (Comac's) C919 single-aisle airliner made its first flight, from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, at 14.00 local time on Friday.

The C919 has more than 150 seats and a range of 4,075 kilometers (2,532 miles), and is meant to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, among the most popular commercial planes flying in the skies.

The C919 - whose key parts include engines and avionics systems provided by 15 global companies such as General Electric and Honeywell - has received 570 orders from 23 foreign and domestic customers, including China's national carrier Air China and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service. COMAC reports that it has 570 orders from 23 customers for the C919, but the aircraft will have to undergo years of testing before it is certified in China and internationally. These include Air China and GE Capital Aviation Services. "It has a great impact for the Chinese people and the domestic market".

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The development of the C919, whose name is pronounced similar to the Chinese world for "everlasting", has been endorsed by the country's leadership, including President Xi Jingping.

After achieving economic growth from low-end manufacturing, the government is pushing a new "Made in China 2025" agenda that aims to make China's domestic output more sophisticated with high added value in areas such as robotics, biotechnology and aviation. Of the new planes, 75 percent are expected to be single-aisle.

A recent Boeing forecast said that China will need 6,810 new aircraft in the next 20 years at an estimated cost of $1 trillion.

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Crew members of the C919, China's first homegrown large passenger plane, wave at spectators in Shanghai on Friday after the plane completed its first test flight.

Comac says that all 15 parameter tests originally planned were successfully carried out during the first flight. "They should all be considered before it is put into use in the market", Lin said. Its engines were made by a joint venture between General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines. "For Honeywell, which has invested heavily in China's aviation industry, we are picking the victor", said Steven Lien, president of Honeywell Aerospace Asia Pacific.

The question on the minds of most consultants and airline executives wasn't whether the Chinese would ever get the C919 airborne after it was announced in 2008-but whether anyone other than state-owned Chinese airlines would want to buy the plane once it did.

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"If achieved, I think it will greatly enhance the accessible market of C919", he said. That smaller jet is a rival to aircraft made by Bombardier Inc. of Canada and Brazil's Embraer SA.