The C919 passenger jet was unveiled as it was rolled out from the final assembly line in Shanghai on Nov 2, 2015. Yin Liqin / For China Daily
With China's J-20 stealth fighter making its public debut on Tuesday at Air Show China, the country is about to take another big step with the first test flight of the C919 later this year or in early 2017, said officials.
The much-anticipated C919, a large, homegrown passenger jet, is expected to provide a major impetus to domestic airplane manufacturing as it clinches new orders before its first test flight.
The latest news on the single-aisle, 168-passenger, twin-engine jet has been a highlight of this week's China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai.
"After the C919 aircraft enters the market, it is expected to drive the growth of related manufacturing industries, including airplane materials manufacturing, electronic engineering, automation and mechanical manufacturing," said Li Xiaojin, a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin.
"Besides, a cohort of Chinese talent will be fostered in those high-tech sectors. As a concept product with critical symbolic significance, C919 is set to stimulate Chinese aviation industrial growth."
Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Corp, one of the three major State-owned Chinese airlines, will become the first to take delivery of the C919, officials with plane's manufacturer, Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd, said on Tuesday at the Zhuhai air show.
"Our staff is working on the project nearly 24 hours a day, and we would like to speed up the pace to conduct the first test flight," said Yang Yang, director of the marketing research center at COMAC Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute.
Within one year of the test flight, China Eastern will start discussions to purchase five C919 aircraft, according to a COMAC statement.
China Eastern said it would fully showcase the safety and other advanced designs of the jet, and contribute to large-scale applications and future development of the homemade passenger jet.
Meanwhile, COMAC also signed an agreement with Shanghai-based aircraft leasing company SPDB Financial Leasing on Tuesday, and it received five confirmed orders and 15 intentional orders from the company, COMAC said.
China is gearing up to become a global aviation power by building its own aircraft with homemade engines. So far, COMAC has received 570 orders for the C919 from 23 customers, including Air China and China Southern.
Li said China's aviation authorities take the safety of the aircraft seriously. If C919 can pass the navigability test, there shouldn't be any worries regarding safety. In terms of economical efficiency and comfort, there maybe some distance yet between C919 and foreign-made aircraft, he said.
"In the short term, the C919 won't have much of an impact on major European and US aircraft manufacturers, since it will take a very small market share, and it currently mainly serves as a supplemental product," he said.
"In the long term, the jet has the potential to be exported to other countries."