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China’s first domestically-designed commercial airliner makes its maiden flight

In what could be the most significant development in global commercial aviation since the prototype of the first Airbus airliner (the A300) made its maiden flight in late 1972, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (Comac’s) C919 single-aisle airliner made its first flight, from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, at 14.00 local time on Friday. The new aircraft is powered by two CFM InternationalLeap-1C engines.

The flight lasted one hour and 19 minutes, with the aircraft touching down at 15.19 local time. As planned, it kept its undercarriage down for the entire flight. The five-strong flight test crew were charged with checking 15 parameters during the flight, and, after the flight, Comac reported that all these tests had been successfully carried out. Chinese State television reported, before the flight, that the aircraft would not exceed an altitude of 3 000 m and not fly faster than 300 km/h.

The company plans a 4 200 flight test campaign, using six aircraft. The C919 is currently scheduled to enter commercial service in 2020 with launch customer China Eastern Airlines. So far, Comac has received orders for 570 of the new airliners from 23 customers, most of them from Chinese airlines and leasing companies.

The C919 will be able to carry up to 168 passengers. It will have a range of between 4 075 km and 5 555 km. Chinese media report that a C919 will cost some $50-million, said to be less than half the price of an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737.

Comac has applied for Type Certification for the C919 from both the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the European Aviation Safety Agency. The latter step confirms the company’s intention to market the aircraft internationally. The C919 is, indeed, designed and intended to compete with the Airbus A320 family and the Boeing 737 family. China hopes, in the course of time, to convert the current international airliner duopoly of Airbus and Boeing into a triumvirate, by making Comac a major manufacturer as well.

The C919 project was launched in 2008. Originally, it had been hoped that it would make its maiden flight in 2014, but this was postponed to late 2015 and then postponed again. The aircraft was publicly unveiled in November 2015. It was finally moved to the company’s Flight Test Centre in December. In March, the Xinhua News Agency reported that its was technically ready for its first flight.

However, the C919 is not the first Chinese-assembled modern commercial jetliner to take to the skies. That honour belonged to an Airbus A320, assembled at the group’s Tianjin Final Assembly Line (FAL). The Tianjin FAL is a joint venture between Airbus, the China Aviation Industry Corporation and the Tianjin Free Trade Zone. (Tianjin lies on the coast of north-east China.) Boeing has signed an agreement with, perhaps ironically, Comac, to set up an Aircraft Completion Centre for the 737, in the city of Zhoushan, south of Shanghai. This centre will not assemble the airliners, however; it will fit out new aircraft assembled and flown in from the US with cabin interiors and paint them in the customer-airlines liveries. Chinese companies also supply components and parts to both Boeing and Airbus.

Source : Engineering News