Hu Jintao, China’s president and strong man from 2003 to 2013, wasn’t exactly seen as someone with a penchant for experimentation. Yet in 2006 he decided to test the waters in the commercial aviation sector, committing scores of Chinese engineers to design and build the country’s first large-scale passenger aircraft by 2020.
On Wednesday, international aviation experts saw part of that mission accomplished. The ARJ-21, a regional jet with 90 seats, took off at an air show in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai.
“For many employees in the Chinese aviation industry, it’s an overwhelming feeling to have achieved so much,” said Qi Xuefeng, chief engineer for the ARJ-21 turbine system.
The state-owned manufacturer, Comac, has already received 278 orders for the new regional jet and 430 orders for the C919, a 170-seat midrange aircraft, for which the company plans test flights next year.
Construction of a 300-passenger, long-range jet will also begin soon, according to Tian Min, Comac’s chief financial officer.