Made In China: Excitement As China’s C919 Plane Makes Its First Commercial Flight

Chinese manufacturer COMAC and China Eastern Airlines celebrated the maiden flight of the country’s first domestically made aircraft, the C919, on Sunday to great fanfare and praise from the national government. The news highlights the threat now posed to the market dominance of global powerhouses Airbus and Boeing.

COMAC C919 plane landing
The arrival of the C919 plane in Beijing generated considerable fanfare. © Xinhua

Flying High Over China – The C919 Plane

Operated by China Eastern Airlines, the C919 took to the skies on Sunday as a part of its first commercial flight. Flight MU9191 left Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) at 10:32 a.m. and arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, around 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Upon arrival, cannons on the runway shot water over the plane, with aviation enthusiasts and members of the press waiting expectantly to catch a glimpse of the plane as it touched down.

The flight comprised 130 passengers who were issued with red-coloured, themed boarding passes and treated to special commemorative meals.

At the C919 plane’s launch ceremony, China Eastern Airlines’ general manager Li Yangmin commented:

“The safety, reliability and abilities needed to ensure [the plane’s] performance have all been fully proved”.

COMAC C919 passenger displaying his boarding pass
Passengers on the C919 inaugural flight were issued with commemorative boarding passes. © Xinhua

The C919 Plane – A Source Of National Pride

The C919 plane was manufactured by the Commercial Aviation Corp of China (COMAC), a state-owned enterprise, and it is said to have been in development for around 15 years. Although Sunday marks the C919’s first commercial flight, it completed its first-ever flight in 2017, with test flights taking place over the years following.

The project has been praised by President Xi Jinping, who cites it as a triumph of Chinese innovation.

Earlier in the year, COMAC’s deputy general manager Zhang Yujin told the Chinese press that around 1,200 orders had been placed for the C919, although other sources state that most of these orders are instead letters of intent from China’s national airlines. China Eastern Airlines, on the other hand, placed five orders in 2021 to meet the growing demand for air travel among domestic customers.

Regular C919 services are set to start this week between Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU), located in the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

COMAC C919 plane taking off
The C919’s first commercial flight has been cited as a crowning success. © Xinhua

Fierce Competition for Airbus and Boeing

Although reports on the giants of aviation manufacturing, Airbus and Boeing, are generally favourable in terms of their commercial success, including the news last month that Boeing had delivered more planes than its rival in Q1 of 2023, both companies will now need to examine this recent development and adapt in order to maintain their market dominance.

China is said to see the launch of its first domestically produced C919 plane as a direct challenge to the aircraft production duopoly of Airbus and Boeing. The country now stands in a strong position to scale up its domestic aircraft manufacturing efforts as it aims to lessen its reliance on foreign technology amid ongoing tension with the West.

One obstacle stands in the way of being able to achieve this goal, however: many of the plane’s parts, such as its engines and avionics, continue to be sourced from Western countries. How China will tackle/overcome this in the future remains to be seen.

What are your thoughts on the launch of China’s first domestically manufactured aircraft? Do you think Airbus and Boeing will need to adapt, given the latest news? Let us know in the comments!

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Rachel Dunster
Rachel Dunster
Aviation Reporter