China's Comac C919 set for maiden test flight this month as it plans sky-high ambitions to rival Boeing and Airbus

Rebecca Smith
Ready for take off?
Ready for take off? (Source: Comac)

China’s ambition of delivering a rival to Airbus and Boeing draws closer as the Comac C919 is set for its first test flight this month.

The Comac C919 is being eyed as a challenger to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 and is expected to stage its maiden flight in the coming weeks after passing an expert assessment at the end of last month.

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China’s President Xi Jinping is keen to bolster the nation’s aviation credentials and state-backed Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) is hoping to lead the way after a few years of delays and nearly a decade in development.

Its narrow-body C919 has a layout of 158 to 174 seats and a range of 4,075 to 5,555km.

Many of the C919’s parts have been sourced from European and US firms, spanning GE, Safran, Liebherr Aerospace and Honeywell. While the first flight will mark a political milestone, the next stage will be selling the jet abroad in a market that has been dominated by aerospace giants Boeing and Airbus. China Eastern Airline will be the first carrier to take delivery of the C919.

Comac said it had received 570 orders from 23 customers in November, but it will need to be given the go-ahead by US and European authorities before it can fly there.

It comes with China set to leapfrog the US as the world’s largest air travel market within the next decade, meaning there should be a large domestic customer base for the new passenger jet.

According to the International Air Transport Association, China will take the top spot around 2024, and the number of people flying to, from and within China will rise to 1.3bn by 2035, compared to 1.1bn for the US.

Airbus forecast last year that China will need 6,000 new passenger aircraft and freighters from 2016 to 2035, with a total market value of $945bn (£732bn), representing 18 per cent of global demand over the next 20 years.

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