First Chinese-made regional jet makes maiden passenger flight

Tue Jun 28, 2016 4:04am EDT
 
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SHANGHAI, June 28 (Reuters) - China's first locally built regional jet made its maiden commercial flight on Tuesday, carrying 70 passengers from the western city of Chengdu to Shanghai on the east coast in what state-owned planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC) hailed as a milestone.

Chengdu Airlines flight EU6679 took two hours and 12 minutes and was "an important milestone in the development of civil aviation in China", COMAC said in a statement.

"Chinese skies for the first time have welcomed a passenger jet developed by China," it said.

The ARJ-21 is designed to compete with similar small passenger jets produced by Brazil's Embraer SA and Canada's Bombardier Inc.

COMAC would continue to "optimize the design of the jet, push forward at a serialised and industrialised pace, and develop domestic and overseas markets," COMAC Chairman Jin Zhuanglong told reporters at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport after the plane landed.

"We will make efforts to build the ARJ-21 as a new calling card for China's high-end equipment manufacturing industry," he said.

China is keen to establish itself as a global supplier of aircraft and is also developing the C919 narrowbody jet, which it hopes will compete with Boeing Co's 737 and Airbus Group SE's A320. It also plans to produce a larger widebody plane in a joint venture with Russia.

However, it has been held back by inexperience, a shortage of local aerospace design and engineering talent, as well as a lack of home-grown companies with the technology to help drive the project, say aerospace industry sources familiar with its programmes. The challenges have led to multiple delays for both the C919 and the ARJ-21.

The ARJ-21, which seats about 90 passengers, was given permission to fly domestically by China's civil aviation regulators at the end of last year - more than 10 years behind its original schedule.

It has not received certification from other regulators such as the United States' Federal Aviation Administration, which means that only airlines in China and those that recognise the Chinese certification process will be able to operate the aircraft.

COMAC says that the ARJ-21 has over 300 orders, mainly from domestic carriers. General Electric Co's aviation arm supplies the engines, and its leasing firm has ordered five planes with options for 20 more. (Reporting by John Ruwitch and Jiang Xihao in SHANGHAI and Siva Govindasamy in SINGAPORE; Editing by Christopher Cushing)