China’s first homegrown airliner makes trial flight

SHANGHAI, China — China’s first fully homegrown commercial aircraft, the ARJ-21, successfully made its maiden flight on Friday, a key step in the country’s ambitious aviation program.

Authorities said earlier this month that they planned to make the flight sometime after Nov. 25.

Unusually clear skies in the region made Friday a good opportunity to go ahead, and the test flight was successful, said an official with the Aviation Industry Corp. of China, or AVIC, confirming reports in the state-run media. Like many media-shy Chinese officials, he gave only his surname, Peng.

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.

For safety reasons, the aircraft was allowed to attain a maximum height of only 2,953 feet.

“The jet was normal and the flight was smooth,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Zhao Peng, one of the three pilots aboard the jet, as saying after the midday flight.

The 90-seat Xiangfeng, or “Flying Phoenix,” was produced at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, a unit of AVIC. It has a maximum flight range of 2,300 miles and maximum altitude of 39,000 feet, Xinhua said.

Originally, the jet’s planners said they planned to make the test flight by March. But delays in suppliers meeting safety requirements slowed the project down.

Deliveries of the jets, costing $27 million apiece, are due to begin within 18 months, Xinhua said.

The showcase project aims to make AVIC’s Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China 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.

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 percent of the domestic market for mid-sized passenger jets in the next two decades.

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