China formally certified its homegrown aircraft to take on Boeing Co. and Airbus SE in the highly lucrative market for narrowbody jets, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The announcement of the certification of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd.’s C919 was made in Beijing Friday, with President Xi Jinping and other high ranking Chinese government officials attending the event, Xinhua said. The report came a day after photos emerged on social media of a ceremony that suggested the jet had been certified.
Read More: Photos Show China Rival to Boeing Jets Gaining Certification
The milestone, which comes ahead of a crucial party Congress next month, typically marks the end of flight testing and paves the way for a planemaker to start deliveries.
China is angling to disrupt the dominance of Boeing and Airbus in commercial jetliner manufacturing. However, it’s not clear when, if ever, the C919 will be a competitive threat to the duopoly. Comac, as Commercial Aircraft Corp of China is more commonly known, hasn’t attracted much interest for its products overseas, and the nation’s airlines still favor Airbus and Boeing as the workhorses of their fleets.
It’s been 14 years since Comac started developing the C919, using foreign suppliers including General Electric Co., Honeywell International Inc. and, for the engines, CFM International Inc. -- a venture between GE and France’s Safran SA. The project has been marred by delays and missed deadlines. China Eastern Airlines Corp. is the launch customer with an order for five of the narrowbody aircraft, which completed a first pre-delivery test flight in May.
Comac has said it already has 815 orders from 28 Chinese customers for the C919, though the majority aren’t confirmed and many are from aircraft lessors yet to place the jet with an airline. China’s so-called big three -- China Eastern, Air China Ltd. and China Southern Airlines Co. -- and Hainan Airlines have 2,241 Boeing and Airbus narrowbody aircraft between them, and at least 546 on order.
For now, the plane will only be allowed to fly within China until it is certified by foreign regulators. The US Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment earlier, directing questions to Chinese regulators. Normally, the FAA would review the design of another nation’s jet to certify it for use in the US, but it’s unclear how that will proceed in this case with the current tensions between the two countries and China’s lack of action on restoring the 737 Max to service.
A spokeswoman for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said that EASA has been working for several years with Comac and the Chinese regulator but “cannot comment on the date when this validation would be completed (or indeed on the date when the CAAC may issue its certification).”
The C919 has a range of 3,450 miles (5,552 kilometers), and can seat up to 168 passengers. This falls short on both capacity and range when compared to rival Airbus’ A320 and Boeing’s 737 Max. Comac already has an aircraft on the market, its ARJ21, a regional jet that can carry 90 passengers and fly 2,300 miles.
Xi told the C919 team that safety is the top priority for the aircraft, adding that China is seeking more breakthroughs in high-end equipment manufacturing, according to Xinhua.