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China’s first giant passenger jet makes successful takeoff and landing in maiden flight

The Comac C919 aircraft.
VCG | Getty Images
The Comac C919 aircraft.

The maiden test flight of the C919 airliner made a successful takeoff, and landing, after a 90-minute flight from Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Friday, according to a livestream via Twitter carried on China's official news agency Xinhua.

The plane's flight was watched by a large crowd gathered at the airport.

The C919 has more than 150 seats and a range of 4,075 kilometers (2,532 miles), and is meant to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, among the most popular commercial planes flying in the skies.

Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, the state-owned company behind the plane, said 21 customers had placed orders for more than 500 planes by the end of 2016, and it expected sales to exceed 2,000, state media said.

China is making a big push to become a global aviation player, looking to compete with the likes of Airbus and Boeing. Establishing itself in this industry has been hailed a "strategic move" by President Xi Jinping, according to written remarks published by state media outlets. Beijing has also identified domestic development and production of engines and planes as a major goal.

Friday's maiden flight will be a key milestone for the C919, which has been plagued by delays. Final ground tests only concluded a few weeks ago, much later than the original schedule of a first flight in 2014, and aircraft delivery in 2016.

Still, it will still be a while before travelers can board the plane – the C919 still needs to undergo other safety and certification checks.

China is expected to beat the U.S. as the world's largest aviation market by 2024, according to the International Air Transport Association. And it's going to be big business for a range of sectors, from tourism to airplane makers as the country's airlines buy more planes and add more routes.

Boeing has estimated that China will need to buy up $1 trillion worth of planes – about 6,810 sets of wings – over the next two decades in order to meet demand.

Barry Huang contributed to this story.