China's homegrown C919 to conduct its maiden commercial flight on Sunday
Updated 18:39, 26-May-2023
Cao Qingqing, You Yang

China delivered its first homegrown C919 large passenger plane to China Eastern Airlines in December 2022. The aircraft is set for the first commercial flight on Sunday.

The plane, developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), was granted a type certificate by the country's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, on September 29, 2022.

"The certificate indicates that the C919 has met the basic safety level for commercial operations," Qiao Shanxun, a member of the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told CGTN.

The milestone signifies that China has the ability to independently develop world-class large passenger aircraft, and marks an important milestone for the country's large aircraft industry.

American aerospace manufacturer Boeing and France-based Airbus have long been considered a duopoly in the commercial aircraft market, which is worth trillions of U.S. dollars.

The C919, as part of China's goal to develop homemade civil planes, is trying to compete with medium-range passenger planes from the two global giants, such as Airbus's A320 and Boeing's 737 MAX. 

Get to know the C919

The C919 narrow-body jet is China's first trunk jetliner developed in accordance with international standards of airworthiness and with independent intellectual property rights.

It has a wingspan of nearly 36 meters, a length of about 39 meters and a tail height of around 12 meters.

The single-aisle plane has 158 to 192 seats. About 60 percent of the planes in the global civil aviation industry, and 80 percent of the planes on the Chinese market, belong to this category in terms of the number of seats, according to Qi Xuefeng, general manager of the C919 project at the COMAC.

With a range of 4,075 to 5,555 kilometers, the C919 is able to fly between any two cities in China, Qi said.

Its aerodynamically-designed wings made from advanced metals and composites help improve fuel efficiency while reducing noise in the cabin.

Its cockpit, with the latest navigation technology and the so-called "fly by wire" computer controls, makes the C919 competitive with other narrow-body jets.

The C919 is a fourth-generation aircraft, which is the most advanced type, according to Qiao.

"We may classify the aircraft by its cockpit. The first generation is the turboprop aircraft that have some basic functions. The auto-pilot function was introduced to the second generation of aircraft. The third generation aircraft saw the introduction of a flight management system (FMS) and terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS). The Boeing 737 NG and 737 MAX all belong to this generation. The fourth-generation aircraft have the fly-by-wire (FBW) system," he explained. 

Huge market potential

Narrow-body aircraft with 150 to 200 seats have been the most widely used planes in the global civil aviation market, and the C919 was designed and developed to meet the huge market demand for this type of planes, according to Qi.

Wu Guanghui, the chief designer of the C919, said he believes China will need around 2,000 narrow-body jets like the C919 in the future.

"It will take up more than 70 percent of the commercial aircraft in China's civil aviation industry. We decided to make this kind of plane because it's the most in-demand product in the market," said Wu.

As of September 2022, 800 C919 aircraft have been ordered by 28 customers, Wu said. Air China, China Southern Airlines as well as Bank of China – BOC Aviation, have also placed orders.

COMAC said the company is also preparing for gaining a certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency, aiming for the global market.

"To achieve real success, the C919 needs to go to the global market. For example, the first-generation of the Boeing 737, which is the B737-100, was ordered by German airline Lufthansa, not an American airline. And for the Airbus A320, its first order of 100 planes was made by U.S. carrier Northwest Airlines," Qiao said.

He added that if the C919 could prove it's safe, reliable and fuel-efficient in commercial operations, and has a competitive price, it will of course be welcomed by the global market.

Key events for the C919

The project of developing the C919 was approved in 2007. 

The production of the first prototype began in December 2011, which was completed in 2015.

The plane made its successful maiden flight on May 5, 2017.

In January 2021, the jet completed its extreme low-temperature tests in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

In March 2021, China Eastern Airlines, one of the country's largest airlines headquartered in Shanghai, signed a contract to buy five C919, the first commercial deal for the plane.

As of this August, six C919 aircraft have completed their test flights for airworthiness certificate in several airports across China, including in the provinces of Shaanxi, Shandong and Gansu. 

On September 13, two C919 planes took off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport and landed at Beijing Capital International Airport for the first time. 

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