Mainland's first commercial jet begins to take shape in Shanghai
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
Work on assembling the mainland's first home-developed commercial jet begins today, a step intended to reduce reliance on foreign companies and showcase its technological development.
The regional jet, called the ARJ-21, will seat 70 to 100 people. The government approved funding for the project more than five years ago, but China has aspired to build its own commercial jet for a lot longer.
The plane's components have been produced by the state-owned China Aviation Industry Corp I (Avic I) at plants nationwide and taken to the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory for final assembly.
The first test flight of the prototype plane will be next March.
Zheng Qiang , president of the Avic I Commercial Aircraft Company that is managing the project, said the test flight would be followed by certification from domestic aviation authorities in the third quarter, which would allow commercial operation of the jet.
The US Federal Aviation Administration opened an office in Shanghai this month to assist China in certifying the plane.
Avic I is holding a ceremony this morning to mark the formal start of assembly, which has received a barrage of coverage in state media.
Although the plane has been billed as the first using China's own intellectual property, 19 foreign companies are participating, according to reports. State media claims 60 per cent of the aircraft's content is locally produced.
Aviation experts say the question is whether China can make the project viable on a commercial basis. The initial investment was 5 billion yuan, but the government has not released an updated figure.
Domestic airlines have placed orders for more than 70 of the planes, the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported.
China has been keen to develop its own technology and standards across several industries, not just aviation.
The regional jet is seen as a stepping stone to building larger 'jumbo' jets, which the government hopes will rival foreign manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus.
Made in China
Estimated local content of the ARJ-21 60%