China's indigenously built C919 passenger jet finally took to the skies on its long-delayed maiden flight today. The development comes as a major step for Beijing as it looked to raise its profile in the global aviation market and boost domestic high-tech manufacturing.
The white, green and blue aircraft, with "C919" emblazoned on its tail, lifted off under overcast skies watched by thousands of dignitaries, aviation workers and enthusiasts.
The narrow-body jet, will take on Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320. The jet soon disappeared into the clouds with its skeleton crew of five pilots and engineers on board. State broadcaster CCTV aired live footage from the plane, which had no passenger seats installed for the maiden flight.
The jet symbolises China's ambitions to gain entry into a global jet market, estimated at $2 trillion, over the next two decades, as also Beijing's broader "Made in China 2025" plan to boost home-made products, from medicines to robots.
''The significance is huge, it's the first ever large-frame aircraft made in China," Xiong Yuexi, a plane design expert at Beihang University in Beijing said ahead of the launch.
"It has a great impact for the Chinese people and the domestic market."
According to state television, on its test run, the plane would fly for one-and-a-half hours at a height of around 3,000 metres and at speeds of 290-300 kilometres (180-186 miles) per hour.
However, according to commentators, the programme was years, if not decades behind aircraft made by Airbus and Boeing that were cheaper to fuel and easier to maintain.
It will need to be certified by safety regulators in Europe, the US and elsewhere, before it can be sold outside China. The plane also included parts like the engines, its cockpit and its belly made by Western industrial giants like General Electric and Honeywell.