China’s passenger plane efforts reached an important milestone last week as the country’s first domestically produced passenger jet, the C919, completed its first commercial flight. 

The China Eastern Airlines (CEA) flight from Shanghai to Beijing marked the culmination of years of efforts, led by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) since 2007, to get a Chinese passenger jet into the air. 

Director of marketing and sales Zhang Xiaguang said: “The first commercial flight is a coming-of-age ceremony of the new aircraft and C919 will get better and better if it stands the test of the market.” 

First manufactured in 2015 and completing its maiden flight in 2017, the narrow-body C919 can hold between 158 and 192 seats with a range of up to 5,555km. 

The plane was developed in a bid to challenge the global dominance of Boeing and Airbus as China seeks to become more self-sufficient, though most of the aircraft’s components are sourced from overseas companies including the engines, which come from CFM International. 

According to COMAC and a number of different sources, there are at least 1,000-1,200 orders for C919s, many of which are thought to be letters of intent from Chinese customers, including 5 from CEA which has set up a specific C919 flight department. 

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The inaugural CEA C919 flight carried 128 passengers and completed its route in two hours, landing at Beijing Capital International Airport at 12:31pm on Sunday 28 May, where it was welcomed with a water salute. 

Following this ceremonial flight, the jet will now operate CEA’s regular route between Shanghai and Chengdu. 

Positive news for the domestic industry in China will be especially welcome after it was reported last year that Chinese airlines were still struggling to recover from pandemic losses due to the country’s strict Covid-19 policies. 

CEA itself reported a net loss of CNY37.39bn ($5.26bn) in fiscal year (FY) 2022, an increase on the CNY12.2bn losses in FY2021. However, the first quarter of 2023 marked an over 100% increase in revenue compared to the previous quarter.