The C919 narrow-body jet is expected to “realise its blue-sky flight dream” in the first six months of 2017, the People’s Daily newspaper reported, with the installation of onboard systems almost completed.
The plane, produced by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), was originally scheduled to make its debut journey in 2015, but the date was repeatedly pushed back as it underwent additional testing and certification.
For China, the aircraft represents at least eight years of effort in a state-mandated drive to reduce the country’s reliance on European plane maker Airbus and Boeing of the United States and compete directly against them for market share.
The first C919 rolled off the assembly line in November 2015 after workers spent more than a year putting together the single-aisle aircraft, which can seat 168 passengers.
It is hoped the plane will take market share in the lucrative segment from the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. In November COMAC said it had received 570 orders from 23 customers.
China is one of the Western manufacturers’ key battlegrounds, with its travellers taking to the skies in ever-growing numbers.
The country’s airlines will need nearly 6,000 new planes worth $945 billion over the next two decades, Airbus said in its 2016-2035 Global Market Forecast.
Boeing’s expectations are even more optimistic, for 6,800 aircraft costing $1 trillion.
To win favour locally both have built partnerships with Chinese firms, even as Beijing hopes to oust them with homegrown aircraft.
Airbus has a completion and delivery centre in Tianjin, where workers install furnishings and apply paint to aircraft for the domestic market. It also buys parts such as exit doors, brake blades and wing sections from Chinese suppliers.
Boeing last year announced plans to open a facility with COMAC to paint and install cabins for 737-model planes, the Chinese firm said.
COMAC has also developed a smaller regional jet, the ARJ21, which took to the skies in its first commercial flight last June.