Comac’s C919 Airliner Takes Flight from Shanghai

 - May 5, 2017, 9:23 AM
The Comac C919 takes off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

Comac’s C919 narrowbody airliner made its debut flight from China's Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Friday, ending a year-and-a-half wait since its factory rollout in November 2015. The aircraft took off at 2:01 pm local time, and remained aloft for more than an hour before returning at 3:19 pm.

The successful flight of the C919 gives the Chinese aviation industry a boost of credibility, after initial plans called for the airplane to fly by the end of 2015. By the time of its rollout, schedules called for first flight in the second quarter of 2016 but various delays in final systems installation and ground testing forced a further one-year wait.

High-speed taxi tests started on April 16, 2017 at Pudong International Airport. On April 23, the C919 lifted its front nose gear at rotation speed before coming to a full stop. That marked the forth and last ground test before first flight.

Although the C919 is largely a Chinese indigenous design, a host of Western suppliers have contributed major components, including CFM International Leap-1C engines, Liebherr landing gear and Honeywell flight control and navigation systems.

Despite two slipped first delivery dates, Comac has managed to secure firm orders and options for 570 C919s from 23 companies. China Eastern Airlines will serve as the type’s launch customer, and lessor GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand’s City Airways remain the only export customers so far.

The C919 can seat 168 passengers in a single-class, economy configuration, 158 across two classes or 174 in a high-density configuration. The standard range covers 2,200 nautical miles, while an extended range version will allow for 3,000 nautical miles. The aircraft’s list price amounts to some $50 million, about half the price Airbus quotes for the A320.

Certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency looms after a panel discussion with their Chinese counterparts in late April. Comac has yet to start talks with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for its endorsement. Failing to win FAA certification would restrict the sale of the aircraft to only domestic market and certain regional clients.