The COMAC C919, China’s homegrown passenger jet, will make its maiden test flight before the end of the year, according to a senior official, who said assembly of the first prototype is progressing well.
The fuselage and major parts of the C919 have been assembled, Li Jiaxiang, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said on the sidelines of the annual meetings of China’s top political advisers and lawmakers.
The narrow-body airliner is being manufactured in Shanghai by the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, also known as COMAC.
Installation of equipment is scheduled to be completed later this year, Li said, adding that aviation authorities will work with the manufacturer to ensure the plane makes its maiden flight before the end of December.
“The administration will place every production process and each component under the strictest scrutiny to ensure the aircraft is safe and reliable,” Li said.
It is the first time the nation’s top civil aviation official has confirmed a timetable for the C919’s test flight.
Started in 2008, the plane is China’s attempt to break the Airbus and Boeing duopoly of major manufacturers, and is poised to compete with the Airbus 320, Boeing 737 and Irkut MS-21. It will carry up to 168 passengers and have a maximum flight range of about 5,500 km.
According to COMAC’s original schedule, the plane should have made its maiden flight last year, but this had to be postponed because of a lack of experience among Chinese engineers and because of technical obstacles, according to project managers.
During a visit to inspect progress on the aircraft in May, President Xi Jinping said China must have its own large passenger jet no matter how difficult the process might be.
COMAC said that if the test flights are satisfactory, the first planes will be delivered to customers in 2017. To date, the company has secured 450 orders from 18 customers.
Tian Min, a COMAC executive, said many new materials and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques have been used on the C919. However, they make the project more complex and riskier, and it will also take longer to test their reliability.
According to a report by the Aviation Industry Development Research Center of China, domestic carriers will have bought 5,500 new airliners between last year and 2033 to serve their rapidly expanding operations.