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The flight of the C919


The top story (in Chinese) in central state media for May 5 is headlined “The Communist Party Central Committee and State Council send a congratulatory message on the maiden flight of the C919 passenger aircraft.” Caixin reports that “amid cheers and applause, the COMAC 919 flew into the hazy skies of Shanghai Pudong International Airport,” while “nearly 150 flights at Shanghai airport were delayed to make way” for the new plane’s test flight.

The plane was designed and constructed by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), and according to Caixin, “symbolizes the nation’s ambition to compete in commercial-aircraft construction.” The dream had to be postponed, since “the 158-seat narrow aircraft has been delayed at every step,” and the maiden flight was “behind schedule by nearly three years.” The aircraft still needs to undergo a series of tests and inspections before it can be licensed to fly in China and other countries, and COMAC does not expect to deliver any of its 570 orders (mostly from Chinese airlines) until after 2020.  

Despite the fact that the new aircraft has, according to Caixin, been “touted as a mass achievement of China’s industrial capacity,” Bloomberg notes that “behind the celebrations of a Made-in-China jet is the reality that COMAC was able to build its new plane using a string of Western suppliers…such as General Electric, Safran, and Honeywell International.”

Sixth Tone has published a report about the “patriots and plane geeks” who flocked to Shanghai to witness the C919’s maiden flight.

One thing that does not seem to have been noted in media coverage of the C919 is its name: In Chinese, it connotes longevity, which is a good thing for a market that can obsess over lucky numbers.

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