China continues to increase its presence in the global aviation industry as it unveiled its first “big” passenger jet. Over 4,000 people, including engineers, journalists and senior Communist party leaders, gathered at the ceremony near Pudong international airport for the unveiling of the 158-seat C919.
After the ceremony, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, tweeted out that, “China joins big jet club!”
The C919 is meant to be a direct competitor to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320.
The People’s Daily, the Communist party’s official newspaper, declared the accomplishment as “an historic breakthrough.” As Chinese President Xi Jinping pushes for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the development of the country’s first large passenger jet has enormous symbolic value.
Li Jiaxiang, the head of China’s civil aviation authority, told the invite-only crowd at the plane’s unveiling ceremony that, “A great nation must have its own large commercial aircraft. The air transportation industry of China cannot completely rely on imports.”
There are certainly commercial interests behind the decision to create the jet. China’s aviation industry has exploded, with the number of airports in the country expected to increase from about 200 to 240 in the next five years.
In fact, Boeing predicts that Chinese airlines will need to purchase about 4,630 single-aisle planes worth $490 billion by 2034 – in addition to 1,500 new wide-body planes worth about $450 billion.
However, most of the planes carrying China’s air travelers are made in the United States, Europe or Brazil.
China hopes to change that by creating and developing its own range of passenger jets and turning the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) – the manufacturer of the C919 – into a company as lucrative and powerful as Boeing.
Comac’s chief executive stated that while work on the C919 began in 2008, its first test flight will not take place until 2016. And, the tests will last about three years before the plane can be used commercially.
Zhang Shuguang, a civil aviation expert from Beihang University in Beijing stated that, “To catch up with Boeing and Airbus is the ideal scenario, but it will take time.”
Zhang added that, “Designing large aircraft is a huge project. We need to be patient and have confidence. We also need to show perseverance. Progress will not come easily.”
Comac has received 517 orders for the C919 so far.