China has scheduled this week to conduct the first C919 flight test. The C919 was built to meet world travel demand and challenge the dominance of Boeing and Airbus. China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) has been set to take wing to on Friday, the company said on Wednesday, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

“If climate conditions are unsuitable, the initial flight will be reprogrammed,” COMAC said, adding that “engineers had completed about 118 tests.”

The C919 represents nearly a decade of efforts to reduce dependence on Airbus and Boeing. The C919 is China‘s first big passenger plane and the latest sign of China’s growing ambition and technical ability, arriving a week after China launched its first national aircraft carrier and signaled a Spacecraft with an orbiting space laboratory.

The C919 can accommodate 168 passengers and has a range up to 5,555km. According to IATA, the Chinese travel market should surpass the United States by 2024. China is a huge battlefield for Boeing and Airbus, with its ever-expanding travel market. Airbus estimates that Chinese airlines need nearly 6,000 new aircraft in the next two decades, while Boeing estimates 6,800 aircraft. Both put combined price tags for those planes to about $ 1 trillion.

Shanghai’s COMAC has a long way to go before it can challenge Boeing and Airbus. COMAC could be able to rely on purchases by rapidly expanding Chinese airlines. COMAC has already received 570 orders by the end of last year, almost all from China’s national airlines. It is possible that in the next century China will become a player in the world aviation game.

China has dreamed of building its own civil aircraft since the 1970s when it began working on the narrowbody Y-10, which in the end was thought to be invaluable and yet it never entered into service. The first regional COMAC jet, the ARJ21 with 90 seats, came into service in 2016, many years late. The ARJ21 is currently reserved for Chinese domestic routes, and an FAA certification is still missing, which will allow it to fly in the United States.

The first C919 flight test was due in 2016 but was delayed. In addition to the C919, China is also working with Russia to develop a long-haul jet C929. Although the C919 is made in China, foreign companies are playing an important role by providing systems as well as engines, made by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric (GE) and Safran of France.

During a visit to COMAC in 2014, President said he did not have a domestic airplane in China and this left the country at the mercy of foreign industrial groups, the state media said then. China last August launched a new multi-billion dollar jet-engine conglomerate with nearly 100,000 employees, hoping to fuel their own aircraft with self-produced engines.

After this first flight of the C919, it will still have to pass a series of tests to obtain the Chinese airworthiness certification before COMAC can sell the plane. The first prototype of the C919 is currently engaged in ground tests, which are taking place at Shanghai Pudong. In March last year, the CAAC completed the review of the entire project, technically approving the first flight.

The C919 “air baptism” was actually expected in 2014 but it progressively slid due to development issues. In particular, COMAC has been hit by a number of technological disadvantages and a long list of supplier-related problems. In the end, the C919 roll-out arrived in November 2015, following a strong pressure from the Beijing authorities. The first delivery, for this reason, has been postponed from 2018 to 2020.

The launch customer will be Airlines, which acquired 20 of the aircraft. COMAC received the special flight permit from China’s Civil Aviation Administration on April 22, as well as a temporary registration of civil aircraft and an aeronautic aviation license. The flight permit and the station license expire on May 31st. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also started working on the certification of the C919. This confirms COMAC’s departure from the FAA for the Western certification of its aircraft but highlights its intention to market the C919 internationally.

Fabio Gigante

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