Chinese regulators have approved the country’s first domestically produced large passenger jet, local media said, with Beijing hoping the plane will challenge foreign models such as the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320.
The C919 narrow-body jet, built by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), was certified at Beijing Capital Airport in an official ceremony Thursday, according to reports and social media pictures.
The aircraft is China’s attempt to make a jetliner with mass commercial potential, which would lessen reliance on foreign technology — although most of the C919’s parts come from overseas suppliers.
President Xi Jinping hailed the project at a separate event in Beijing on Friday, lauding its participants as “pillars and great heroes of the country”, according to state media.
China is home to the world’s second-biggest aviation market and state carriers have enthusiastically supported the jet, despite it not having received the green light from US and European regulators yet.
The plane also requires a further licence to enter mass production.
Xi said the project “has made gratifying achievements”, adding that China “must continue to focus on core technologies and pool our efforts to make key breakthroughs”, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
“Having China’s large jets soaring through the skies is an effort freighted with the will of the country, the dreams of the nation and the expectations of the people”, CCTV reported him as saying.
– End-of-year delivery –
China Eastern Airlines, the country’s second-largest carrier by passenger numbers, said in May it planned to introduce four C919s into its fleet.
Chinese media reported that the aircraft will be delivered to China Eastern by the end of this year, aiming to go into operation during the first quarter of 2023.
COMAC said on its website that there have been 815 orders from 28 customers.
The COMAC ARJ21 regional jet, a predecessor of the C919 which carries up to 90 passengers, came into commercial operation in 2008 after a lengthy development period.
Several Chinese airlines have ordered more than 300 Airbus jets so far this year, the European firm said.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded in China since 2019 after two fatal crashes.
In July, Boeing expressed optimism that it would be approved for delivery by Chinese regulators this year.
However, lingering US-China trade tensions and China’s worst commercial air disaster earlier this year involving a Boeing 737-800 have slowed progress.
Beijing also sanctioned Boeing’s top defence executive earlier this month for the company’s involvement in US arms sales to Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory.