China's Chengdu Airlines marked a milestone this week as it flew the first-ever scheduled passenger flight on a Chinese airliner, the ARJ21-700 regional jet.
The plane, which can be configured for 70 to 90 passengers, is a competitor for the current regional jet champions, Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer. It has one big advantage: Its manufacturer, the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) is run by the Chinese government, as are many of the airlines expected to be its customers.
Chengdu, which started off the flight with staff members dressed as pandas lined up with the plane, has 30 on order, and other regional airlines are expected to order many more.
While the plane's design and main construction are home-grown, there is a lot of involvement from others, including Avionics from Rockwell Collins, GE engines and a wing design from Ukraine's Antonov aircraft company. Of course, as time goes on, China will push to take over those parts of the industry as well.
China, which is currently the fastest-growing aviation market with a need potentially for thousands of new planes, is also working on larger planes that would compete with the A320/Boeing 737 for market share. That plane, the C919, has been delayed several times, as was the ARJ21. The C919 is expected to make its first flight by the end of this year.
While other countries' airlines are not likely to be rushing to buy Chinese planes early on, China itself is estimated to need more than 5500 new airliners over the next 20 years, and these planes could fill a significant part of that demand.