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Ready for the first commercial flight: China's C919



"The world's first C919" is emblazoned as lettering on the side of the aircraft, which took off on its first commercial flight on Sunday. It's not just the world's first C919. It is also China's first passenger aircraft produced in the country.

According to government information, the twin-engine aircraft from the manufacturer Comac from Shanghai was on its maiden flight operated by China Eastern Airlines with around 130 guests on board. The jet, which has a maximum range of about 3500 miles (around 5633 kilometers) and is designed for up to 168 passengers, took off on Sunday morning (local time) from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport and landed in Beijing just under two hours later.

It took 15 years to develop the C919, which looks like the A320 from industry leader Airbus. The plane is supposed to be another symbol that China has caught up as a high-tech nation. Currently, Boeing's A320 and B737 are the most popular narrow-body aircraft for short and medium-haul routes. Now China's President Xi Jinping is celebrating the project as a triumph of Chinese innovation, with state media praising the jet as a sign of industrial prowess and national pride. "After generations of efforts, we have finally broken the West's monopoly on aviation," wrote Beijing Daily.

Built in China – with components from abroad

In fact, while Comac developed parts of the C919 itself and the aircraft is also assembled in Shanghai, some key components, including the engine, are still sourced from the West. What's more, anyone looking for groundbreaking innovations in key areas such as lightweight construction, fuel consumption, noise, safety, comfort, range or economy will also be disappointed. (Read more about the C919 here: China wants to conquer airspace with this aircraft.)

According to the manufacturer, more than 1200 aircraft have already been ordered, and the state-sponsored China Eastern Airlines ordered five C919s in March. According to Comac, production is expected to increase to 150 jets annually within five years. The national market is large, but orders from abroad remain questionable, as the aircraft has not yet been approved by the regulatory authorities in Europe or the USA, says Greg Waldron of the industry magazine FlightGlobal: "As long as this is not the case, the most important international markets for the C919 will remain closed."