China’s first domestically produced passenger jet took off on its maiden commercial flight on Sunday, a milestone event in the nation’s decades-long effort to compete with Western rivals in the air.
Beijing hopes the C919 commercial jetliner will challenge foreign models like the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320, though many of its parts are sourced from abroad.
Its first homegrown jetliner with mass commercial potential would also cut the country’s reliance on foreign technology as ties with the West deteriorate.
“In the future, most passengers will be able to choose to travel by large, domestically produced aircraft,” state broadcaster CCTV said.
China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 rose into the skies above Shanghai Hongqiao Airport on Sunday morning, footage from CCTV showed, and was due to land in Beijing in the early afternoon.
The plane is carrying over 130 passengers, CCTV said.
Footage broadcast by state media showed dozens of passengers gathering at the sun-drenched Shanghai airfield to admire the sleek white jet.
They then filed into the narrow-body plane which taxied to the runway before taking off.
Passengers received red boarding passes and will enjoy a sumptuous “themed meal” to commemorate the flight, CCTV reported.
China has invested heavily in the production of the homegrown jet as it seeks to become self-sufficient in key technologies.
The aircraft is manufactured by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), but many of its parts — including its engines — are sourced from overseas.
From Monday, the C919 will operate on China Eastern’s regular route between Shanghai and the southwestern city of Chengdu, CCTV reported.
The first model of the narrow-body jet, which seats 164 passengers, was formally handed over to China Eastern last year during a ceremony at an airport in Shanghai, hailed by state media as “an important milestone” for the country’s aircraft industry.
Zhang Yujin, COMAC’s deputy general manager, told state-backed Shanghai outlet The Paper in January that the company had taken around 1,200 orders for the C919.
COMAC planned to increase annual production capacity to 150 models within five years, Zhang said at the time.
Asia and China in particular are key targets for both Airbus and its American rival Boeing, which are looking to capitalize on growing demand for air travel from the country’s vast middle class.
Last month, Airbus said it would double its production capacity in China, signing a deal to build a second final assembly line for the A320 in Tianjin.
The first assembly site in the northern city opened in 2008 and produces four A320s a month, with Airbus hoping to increase that to six per month before the end of the year.