World's first Chinese-made passenger aircraft takes to the skies

The plane is a direct rival to Airbus and Boeing aircraft.
Fabienne Lang

The world's first COMAC C919 aircraft was delivered on Friday to its first-ever customer, China Eastern Airlines (CEA), reported Aviation Source News.

This is a milestone in China's aviation industry, as it marks the first large Chinese-made passenger aircraft to ever be built in accordance with international airworthiness standards and owning independent intellectual property rights. It lines up in direct competition with Airbus SE's Airbus A320 and Boeing Co's Boeing 737 aircraft.

The C919's inaugural flight, with registration number B-919A and “the world’s first C919” painted on its side in Chinese and English, boasted 15 minutes of air time over Shanghai. The plane flew from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport without reporting any issues.

The aircraft has been a long time in the making. It took its first test flight in 2017, signed its first commercial contract with CEA in April of this year, and obtained its Type Certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on September 29, 2022. It started mass production in November, CNN reported.

CEA stated that it plans on receiving the additional four aircraft of this first batch in the next two years.

COMAC C919 details

The C919 aircraft is a twin-engine narrow-body jet powered by CFM International LEAP-1C engines. It can accommodate between 158 and 192 passengers and has a range between 2,532 and 3,451 miles (4,075 to 5,555 kilometers), per Commercial Aviation Corp of China (COMAC).

The 164-seater plane has a two-cabin layout, with eight business class seats and 156 economy class ones. According to Aviation Source News, the middle seat of the three-seater rows in the economy cabin is 0.5 inches (1.5cm wider) than its neighboring seats, offering more comfort to those sitting in them.

The plane has twenty 12-inch (30.4cm) drop-down screens that can play 1080P movies. It also has an aisle height of 7.3 feet (2.25 meters), and the plane comes with an efficient air filtration system, a passenger-centric lighting system, and low noise.

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The aircraft is currently set for full commercial use in the Spring of 2023, with its maiden route allegedly going between Shanghai and Beijing.

COMAC is expected to produce around 25 C919s per year by 2030, which is less than the current monthly rates of narrowbody production at its rivals, according to Jefferies analysts. It also plans to expand the project with new enlarged and downsized aircraft variants, as well as cargo and VIP versions.

Currently, COMAC relies fairly heavily on international components, including the aircraft's engines and control systems. An alternative engine called the CJ-1000A is under development, with the hope that more or all of its airplanes' components will be made nationally.

Time will tell how the C919 fares and how much less dependent it may become on Western components further down the line. For the time being, its inaugural flight on Friday marked a historic moment in the Chinese and international aviation industry.