BEIJING (Reuters) – The sixth prototype of China’s home-built C919 narrowbody passenger plane completed its first test flight on Friday, marking a milestone in the program’s testing schedule as China races to compete with Airbus SE <AIR.PA> and Boeing Co <BA.N>.
The sixth prototype is the last test plane its manufacturer, the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC) [CMAFC.UL], has planned for the program and was scheduled to fly before the year-end. Currently, there are five test planes that are conducting test flights elsewhere in the country.
The maiden flight on Friday from Shanghai lasted two hours and five minutes, COMAC said in a press release, adding that the jet will be conducting more test flights with a focus on cabin, lighting and external noises.
COMAC has already started production of aircraft parts which will be used for the first batch of aircraft deliveries, it said.
The state manufacturer is aiming to obtain Chinese certification for the C919 in 2021, but the date was subject to regulatory approval and the aircraft’s safety remains a top priority, according to COMAC officials.
He Dongfeng, the Communist Party boss of COMAC, wrote in a state-owned newspaper in December that aircraft safety is key to the survival of COMAC.
Designed to compete directly with the Airbus 320 and the Boeing 737 families in the market for jets with around 150 seats, the C919 is the speartip of China’s efforts to break a powerful decades-old Western duopoly.
The Boeing 737 MAX remains globally grounded following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)