The worth of a country's industrial progress is often measured by its ability to manufacture high-technology products. Thus, it is no surprise that China, striving to achieve recognition as a global power, is pouring funds and resources into its aircraft-building programmes. The programme got a major shot in the arm on Friday when the country's first independently developed regional jet completed its maiden flight in Shanghai.
The 90-seat jet, unveiled last December, landed safely at an airport in Shanghai after an hour's flight, state-owned media outlet Xinhua said on its website. The flight was made from a local airport in northern Shanghai's Baoshan District and went "extremely well," the China News Service and other state-run media reported. Authorities said earlier this month that they planned to make the flight sometime after 25 November.
The ARJ21-700, a homegrown commercial aircraft powered by a turbofan engine, rolled off production lines in December last year at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory. It has a full-passenger flight capability of 2,225 km and a maximum flight capability of 3,700 km.
At 12:23 pm on Friday, Zhang Qingwei, chairman of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd (CACC), which developed the jet, gave the order to the three pilots to take off, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The jet's maiden flight was successfully completed about an hour later, with all testing procedures carried out, Zhao Peng, one of the three pilots, said.
The ARJ21 does not have passenger seats built in during the testing phase, but will be able to carry passengers within 18 months, Hu Haiyin, Party secretary of the CACC, said. The Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory has an annual production capability of 20 ARJ21 jets and the goal is to assemble 50 jets each year in Shanghai alone, Hu said.
The showcase project aims to make Shanghai-based CACC a rival to international manufacturers such as Bombadier Inc. of Canada and Brazil's Embraer SA. Airlines have ordered a total of 206 ARJ jets, according to the government. Deliveries of the jets, costing $27 million apiece, are due to begin within 18 months, Xinhua said.
China will need about 900 mid-sized regional jets over the next two decades, Commercial Aircraft Corp. estimates, as economic growth drives an expansion of air travel and airlines look for planes best tailored to feeder routes. The manufacturer says the ARJ-21 is expected to grab up to 60 per cent of the domestic market for mid-sized passenger jets in the next two decades.