Maiden flight of first homemade passenger jet hailed a success
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
The country's first domestically designed passenger jet made its maiden flight yesterday - a step on the road to producing a jumbo jet that can challenge industry giants Boeing and Airbus, the government hopes.
The ARJ21, which stands for 'advanced regional jet for the 21st century', took off in great secrecy from Shanghai shortly after midday.
The hour-long test flight was revealed by state media only after the plane had landed.
Television showed the jet - painted white with blue markings - taking off under sunny skies as workers from the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory took photographs.
'This successful maiden flight has important meaning for exploring a developmental model for China's civil aircraft, establishing a Chinese civil aircraft research and production system, and advancing the implementation of the large-plane project,' said the general manager of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Jin Zhuanglong .
The Shanghai-based company was set up in May to oversee development of the regional jet, as well as a jumbo jet.
The ARJ21 can seat 70 to 90 people and fly up to 3,700km without refuelling.
The government is also supporting the development of a larger model with at least 150 seats to compete with Boeing and Airbus models.
Three test pilots took the ARJ21 aloft. It flew from northern Shanghai over Chongming Island and back again, reaching an altitude of 4,000 metres.
'The condition of the plane is normal. The test pilots felt the operation and control were good,' pilot Zhao Peng was quoted as saying.
State media said the flight marked China's entry into the ranks of the world's passenger aircraft makers.
The first ARJ21 rolled off the assembly line nearly a year ago, but the maiden flight had been delayed because suppliers were late with deliveries. Although the government says the plane is the first to use China's own intellectual property, 19 foreign companies took part in the project, reducing the domestic contribution to about 60 per cent.
Delivery of the first planes to customers will take another 18 months - five months behind schedule.
The company claims it has 208 domestic and international orders for the ARJ21. The plane is priced at about US$27 million, which the firm says is lower than comparable models produced by competitors.
The company has turned out six ARJ21s, which will undergo test flights and certification by the mainland's aviation authority.
The company's parent, China Aviation Industry Corp, forecasts that airlines worldwide will need 6,600 regional jets in the next 20 years. Officials say regional jets are more fuel efficient than bigger planes, meaning operators can charge lower fares.