"The roll out of the first C919 aircraft marks a significant milestone in the development of China's first indigenous aircraft," Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) Chairman Jin Zhuanglong said amid much fanfare at the launch ceremony in China's gleaming financial hub.
The C919 - a twin-engine, narrow-body aircraft seating up to 174 people - is similar in size to the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 series of jets, long the workhorses for airlines around the world. With a flying range of up to 5,555 kilometres (3,451 miles), it is designed to compete head-to-head with its Airbus and Boeing rivals, and said to easily cover popular business and leisure routes from China such as Shanghai to Singapore and Beijing to Bangkok.
The aircraft will make its first test flight next year, Jin said, indicating that the plane will miss the original deadline of this year. "When the plane is cleared for commercial use, is expected to compete with the updated Airbus 320 and Boeing's new- generation 737," state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
At the ceremony, shown live on national television, the aircraft - sporting a largely white fuselage with a blue wavy stripe and a green tail - was towed beneath a banner with the phrase 'a dream takes off' and past a huge Chinese national flag. Chinese President Xi Jinping, congratulating Chinese aviation experts for their dedication, asked them to make careful preparation for a maiden flight.
Xi, also General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China, said in an instruction that safety and quality of the aircraft should be prioritised during the preparation for the first flight. "With its maiden flight scheduled for next year and at least another three years of test flights, it will take some time before the single-aisle jet can ply commercial air routes the world over," the report said.
The C919 was unveiled after China signed a $17 billion contract with European aerospace consortium Airbus to buy 130 aircraft on October 29 during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. China is the world's largest civil aviation market, with its 21 largest airports seeing annual throughput exceeding 10 million passengers. China is expected to add 6,330 new aircraft worth a whopping $950 billion to its commercial fleet by 2034, according to estimates from Boeing.
According to Airbus forecasts, China will need over 5,300 new passenger aircraft and freighters from 2014 to 2033, with a total market value of $820 billion. It represents 17 per cent of the world total demand for over 31,000 new aircraft in the next 20 years.