China’s homegrown large passenger jet achieves milestone
Published: Dec 27, 2019 08:13 PM

The sixth prototype of the C919 completed its maiden test flight in Shanghai on Friday. Photo: Courtesy of Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China

China's domestically developed passenger plane C919 reached another milestone on Friday after a sixth prototype completed its first test flight in Shanghai, as the manufacturer accelerates final preparations before breaking into the lucrative civil aviation market currently dominated by Western companies.

While there is still a long way to go for the C919 before entering the market and seriously challenging the US-based Boeing Co and France-based Airbus SE, the Chinese jet is making steady progress and will have a huge potential in the domestic market as well as developing countries, analysts said.

The sixth prototype of the C919 completed its maiden flight, which lasted for two hours and five minutes with a particular focus on test of the cabin, lighting, and external noise, the manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) said in a statement on Friday.

Friday's test flight also marked that all planned prototypes are now in the testing phase, with the other five prototypes conducting tests in four different locations across the country, according to the statement.

"This means that the C919 has entered an accelerated testing phase before it is accorded the airworthiness certification," Qi Qi, a Guangzhou-based industry observer, told the Global Times on Friday. 

COMAC is aiming to gain the certification in 2021, according to media reports. Apart from the tests, production of parts of the plane is also in progress, with manufacturing of parts for the first batch of the plane having already commenced, according to the COMAC statement.

"Gaining the airworthiness certification is now the most important task for the C919," Lin Zhijie, an independent analyst based in Xiamen, East China's Fujian Province, told the Global Times, adding that the C919 faces both challenges and opportunities going forward.

"The disadvantage is that the reliability, performance, and economics of the C919 is still lagging behind Boeing and Airbus planes," Lin said, "But at the same time, China's massive, rapidly growing civil aviation market, besides the growing strength of the entire country, could offer support to the COMAC's long-term development."

Over the next two decades, the Chinese market will have a demand of 9,205 planes with 50 or more seats, worth a total of $1.4 trillion, according to a report from COMAC.