China successfully flies into airplane manufacturing

China’s very first fully homegrown aircraft has hit the skies at last, bringing China’s aviation industry another step closer to competition in the global market. The ARJ-21, a regional aircraft built at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, flew its maiden flight last Friday, after delays from suppliers held up the jet for about eight months.

With its new jets, the Aviation Industry Corp of China, or AVIC, expects to compete with Canada’s Bombadier Inc and Embraer SA of Brazil. AVIC officials expect the ARJ-21 to be certified airworthy by early 2009, and the company will start delivering planes to customers by the second half of next year if all goes according to plan.

According to the Chinese government, airlines have ordered 206 of the jets so far, and demand is expected to increase. Experts estimate that China’s growing domestic airline industry will require about 900 new mid-sized regional jets over the next twenty years, and the ARJ-21 should control most of that market.

The jets are designed to carry 70-110 passengers and have a flight range of 3,680 kilometers, or 2,286 miles.