China's first homegrown airliner makes maiden flight

China's first fully homegrown commercial aircraft, the ARJ-21, successfully made its maiden flight on Friday, a key step in the country's ambitious aviation program.

Authorities said earlier this month that they planned to make the flight sometime after November 25.

Unusually clear skies in the region made Friday a good opportunity to go ahead, and the test flight was successful, said an official with the Aviation Industry Corp of China, or AVIC, confirming reports in the state-run media. Like many media-shy Chinese officials, he gave only his surname, Peng.

The flight was made from a local airport in northern Shanghai's Baoshan District and went "extremely well", the China News Service and other state-run media reported.

For safety reasons, the aircraft was allowed to attain a maximum height of 900 metres, the reports said.

The Xiangfeng, or "Flying Phoenix" was produced at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, a unit of AVIC.

The jet, meant for regional flights, is designed to carry 70-110 passengers and have a flight range of 3,680km.

Originally, the jet's planners said they planned to make the test flight by March. But delays in suppliers' meeting safety requirements slowed the project down, people working in the industry say.

China earlier said it expects the jet to get its airworthiness certificate in the first half of 2009 and to begin deliveries to customers in late 2009.

The showcase project aims to make AVIC's Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corp of China a rival to international manufacturers such as Bombadier Inc of Canada and Brazil's Embraer SA.

Airlines have ordered a total of 206 ARJ jets, according to the government.

China will need about 900 mid-sized regional jets over the next two decades, Commercial Aircraft Corp estimates, as economic growth drives an expansion of air travel and airlines look for planes best tailored to feeder routes.

The manufacturer says the ARJ-21 is expected to grab up to 60 per cent of the domestic market for mid-sized passenger jets in the next two decades.