BEIJING (AFP): China on Friday (Dec 9) announced the first delivery of its new domestically produced passenger jet, with the aircraft expected to make its commercial debut early next year.
Beijing hopes the C919 commercial jetliner will challenge foreign models like the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320, though most of its parts are sourced from abroad.
The first model of the narrow-body jet, which seats 164 passengers, was formally handed over to China Eastern Airlines during a ceremony at an airport in Shanghai, state media reported.
The move marked "an important milestone" in the journey of China's aircraft industry, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Footage broadcast Friday by CCTV showed the jet bearing the China Eastern insignia standing on a rainswept airfield and gave a glimpse inside the aircraft's cabin.
The state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) passed the airline a "commemorative key to the world's first C919," CCTV reported.
COMAC said at an airshow last month that it had secured orders for 300 C919s, but did not clarify whether the orders were fully confirmed and gave no details about the value of the deals or delivery dates.
But if the orders go through, they would take the number of known deals for the C919 to over 1,100, based on figures from previous COMAC statements.
Domestic media previously reported that four aircraft were expected to be delivered to China Eastern -- the country's second-largest carrier by passenger numbers -- by the end of the year before going into operation in the first quarter of 2023.
China sealed a deal for Airbus jets worth $17 billion earlier this year, and the company began producing its A321 model in the northeastern city of Tianjin last month.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded in China since 2019 after two fatal crashes, though the aerospace giant said in July that it may be approved for delivery by Chinese regulators this year.
But lingering US-China trade tensions and China's worst commercial air disaster earlier this year involving a Boeing 737-800 have slowed progress.