The C919 series is China's domestically-produced airliner project. Photo: Xinhua
The C919 series is China's domestically-produced airliner project. Photo: Xinhua

The second test plane of the C919, code name for China’s indigenous narrow-body passenger airliner program, got airborne this weekend from Shanghai Pudong Airport.

It ascended to an altitude of 4,500 meters and cruised for 75 minutes before touching down at the same airport, Xinhua reported.

This second plane flew higher and faster than the C919 prototype on its maiden flight in May.

Once it is operating commercially, the C919 will be able to carry up to 190 passengers in an all-economy seating plan.

Four more test planes will be assembled at the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) plant in Shanghai next year, and all six planes will fly to two airbases in Shaanxi and Shandong provinces for concurrent tests in a bid to expedite the airworthiness certification by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Observers say the CAAC’s swift approval is a sure thing, but the C919 will have to seek endorsement from the US and European civil-aviation authorities if it really wants to wrest market share from dominating aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier.

Attendees gather as a Chinese C919 passenger jet sits on the tarmac. Photo: Reuters/Andy Wong
Attendees gather as a Chinese C919 airliner sits on a runway. Photo: Reuters/Andy Wong

The European Aviation Safety Agency has confirmed the receipt of Comac’s application for C919 airworthiness certification, though processing details are yet to be finalized.

Apparently the timing of foreign approvals is up in the air. For instance, the US Federal Aviation Administration is still processing Comac’s application for the ARJ21 Xiangfeng, a twin-engined regional jet with a seating capacity of no more than 100 passengers. That application was filed in 2003.

As for China’s C919 program, more than 1,000 “torture” tests are awaiting the six test planes, covering temperature, stall and water resistance, ultimate load-bearing capacity, bird impacts, metal fatigue, minimal takeoff speed and others, all aimed at ascertaining the plane’s reliability in extreme scenarios.

Comac is now grappling with a talent drain, as the company has only a small team of a dozen test pilots and certified engineers, with a fast-approaching deadline for carrying passengers on fare-charging domestic flights by 2021, the centennial of the Communist Party of China, by which time the program is meant to be concluded as a key breakthrough under the party’s leadership.