Comac C919 takes off for maiden flight in China

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The C919 single-aisle jet, which can hold up to 168 passengers, soured over Pudong global airport in the commercial hub Shanghai as a crowd of thousands cheered.

The C919, made by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) [CMAFC.UL], has seen its test flight pushed back at least twice since 2014 due to production issues, underlining the scale of the task facing Beijing.

China took a step towards the aviation big league Friday with the long delayed, but finally successful, maiden flight of its first modern passenger jet.

The C919 has more than 150 seats and a range of 4,075 kilometers (2,532 miles), and is meant to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, among the most popular commercial planes flying in the skies.

China is expected to beat the U.S. as the world's largest aviation market by 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The Chinese plane is touted to rival to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, but a spokesman for the aircraft's maker said it can not compare. The plane is thus expected to make its global debut in the 2020s.

But it relies on foreign-made technology for critical systems, including its engines, which are made by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric's aviation subsidiary and France's Safran Aircraft Engines.

Both Airbus and Boeing have assembly plants in China considering the growing demand for new aircraft.

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Some relevant stocks have already posted strong gains lately, including Changzheng Engineering (603698.CN), Spring Airlines (601021.CN) and Shanghai International Airport (600009.CN).

China Eastern Airlines will be the first carrier to operate the C919 when it completes testing and secures approval from China's aviation regulator. Comac executives say the C919 will "definitely" get there faster than that.

The narrow-body jet, will take on Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320.

China's first domestically made jet, the twin-engine regional ARJ-21, flew its passengers in June 2016, eight years after its first test flight. It landed some 80 minutes later.

Beijing is also already looking beyond the C919, with plans to develop a wide-body long-haul jet with Russian Federation.

Ma called on agencies and personnel involved in the maiden flight to persist in their efforts to enhance science and technology innovation, with the focus on improving quality and safety, in a bid to make the aircraft into a landmark in the era of reform and opening up and China's journey to becoming an innovative country and manufacturing power.

"Ultimately, making an entire airplane from Chinese manufactured components is probably half a century away", said George Ferguson, senior aerospace analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, which conducts economic and industry analysis.

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