China's Indigenous Passenger Jetliner Completes First Commercial Flight; To Compete With Boeing and Airbus

China created a milestone in its aviation history on Sunday when its pioneering passenger aircraft manufacturer successfully completed the first commercial flight. The aircraft, C919, which is China's first self-developed large passenger aircraft, flew from Shanghai to Beijing in its completed its inaugural commercial flight on Sunday.

The aircraft was developed by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) to compete with Boeing and Airbus. "Based on earlier full preparations, the maiden flight is a new starting point for China Eastern," Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Corp's vice-chairman said.

C919 aircraft
C919 aircraft Wikimedia Commons

Passengers on the first flight celebrated the moment by waving national flags, and the cabin witnessed a euphoric atmosphere. "I have been closely watching the development of C919 for years. As an aviation fan, I am so proud that China now has such an advanced aircraft manufacturing industry," one of the passengers told GT.

China Eastern Airlines intends to operate the C919 plane between Shanghai and Chengdu. The airline said it will gradually move to operate more planes.

What is C919?

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China launched the indigenous passenger plane project in 2007. It completed the first test flight in 2017 before getting the Type Certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in 2022.

The aircraft will have between 158 and 168 seats and its flight range is about 5,555 kilometers. Its nearest competitors will be Airbus 320 and Boeing 737.

CR929 Passenger plane interior
Comac CR929 cabin at the MAKS Air Show, Moscow, August 2019. Wikimedia Commons

COMAC says it expects to have an annual production capacity of 150 planes within the next five years. Media reports say the company has already received about 1,200 orders.

Booming Domestic Market

Fast paced economic development in China over the years has resulted in a boom in air travel in China. According to COMAC's projections, China's aviation market will absorb nearly 10,000 passenger aircraft with more than 50 seats capacity over the next 20 years. This translates into about $1.4 trillion in value. The Chinese goal is to make sure at least a part of this huge market is serviced by home-grown aircraft makers.


American aircraft giant Boeing welcomed the Chinese company's foray into passenger plane making. "On the occasion of the successful commercial maiden flight of C919 today, we would like to extend our sincere congratulations to China Eastern Airlines and COMAC," Boeing said on its official WeChat account.

Airbus also congratulated COMAC. "We have great respect for any competitor in the market," Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury told the Global Times in April.

Another COMAC Project in Disarray

There were reports last year that another ambitious project by COMAC was facing steep challenges. The project code-named CR-929, which is a $50 billion joint venture between Russia and China to manufacture a wide-body passenger jet, was at the risk of falling apart, reports said.

The latest report from the SCMP suggests that the differences between the two sides are too complex to be solved. The biggest issue currently is the question of profit sharing. Also, while Russia wants the project to be completed without any western cooperation, China is clear that it needs commercial success for the project. China wants to source an American or German undercarriage for the plane, Russia wants to use its own.