A C919 model is displayed at an aviation exhibition. Photo: Reuters / China Daily
A C919 model is displayed at an aviation exhibition. Photo: Reuters / China Daily

The second test plane of the C919 series, China’s first domestically designed and manufactured passenger airliner aimed at competing with Boeing’s 737s and Airbus’ A320s, has quietly rolled off its assembly line in the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China’s (Comac) plant in Shanghai and gone through its first low-speed taxiing test at the city’s Pudong Airport.

Its first test flight is scheduled for the end of this month.

Earlier, the first C919 prototype embarked on its first inter-city flight from Shanghai and touched down at the northwestern city of Xian, clearing the way for its certificate of airworthiness, a prerequisite for carrying passengers on fare-charging commercial flights.

Xinhua reported recently that the first such commercial flight could take off as soon as three or four years from now, citing a Comac official.

Yuan Wenfeng, C919 project director, said his team wanted to make the first commercial delivery of the new airliner in 2021, as a “gift” marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Communist Party of China.

Meanwhile, a fifth runway has been built at Shanghai Pudong International Airport specifically for testing of C919 and CR929 planes. The latter is a Sino-Russian joint endeavor for a wide-body, twin-aisle, long-haul passenger jet to challenge Boeing’s and Airbus’ duopoly of the high-end market segment.

China’s home-grown C919 passenger jet prepares to take off. Photo: Reuters/Aly Song

Despite the publicity campaign ballyhooing the C919’s maiden flight in May, more people have realized that the Chinese plane relies on a number of foreign suppliers for core components, inducing the engines, made by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and the French company Safran, as well as its tires, from Michelin.

Yuan has thus stressed that even Boeing cannot source all parts and components from within the United States and that the C919’s hull is 100% made-in-China.

More new orders have been confirmed this year, bringing the total number to 730, with 27 clients across the globe, according to Yuan.

Other sources confirm the 700-plus orders, though only around 170 are firm orders placed by predominantly domestic customers including Hainan Airlines and China Southern Airlines, as well as several aircraft leasing companies affiliated with state lenders. Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines will be the C919’s launch customer.

GE Capital Aviation Services is so far the only foreign client, with 10 firm orders.