China has rolled out its large passenger plane in a major feat, challenging the dominance of Airbus and Boeing on the commercial aviation industry.
The narrow-body C919, a twin-engine jetliner which can seat up to 168 passengers, was unveiled near Shanghai on Monday in a ceremony attended by some 4,000 people.
The stated-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) expects the jet to make its maiden flight in 2016 and carry out test flights for three years before entering into commercial service.
It is a crucial milestone in China’s push to establish itself as a major plane manufacturer and reduce dependence on the West for furnishing its aviation fleet.
China is forecast to expand into the world’s largest air travel market over the next 20 years, requiring 6,330 new commercial planes worth about $1 trillion.
“China offers a terrific market, superb engineering talent and reasonably low costs. Developing a national aircraft industry makes a lot of sense,” said industry consultant Richard Aboulafia, quoted by the Associated Press.
The C919 is meant to compete with Airbus’s A320 and Boeing’s 737 in the lucrative global market for single-aisle jets.
Comac said it has already received orders from 21 customers for a total of 517 aircraft, including from Irish-American GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand’s City Airways.
The company plans to build the wide-body C929 in cooperation with Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. Russian officials have said the airliner will cost $13 billion to develop, with a first flight expected between 2021 and 2022.
China has already developed a smaller regional jet, the ARJ, which was delivered last year to a Chinese airline. The 78-90 seat plane is aimed at competing in the market dominated by Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier.
The C919 has a range of up to 5,555 kilometers (3,444 miles). While made in China, foreign firms are supplying systems and the engines, which are built by a joint venture between General Electric of the US and France’s Safran.