China's much-delayed C919 jet may make maiden flight by end-2016

BEIJING, Sept 7 (Reuters) - China’s long-delayed C919 jet may make its maiden flight by the end of this year, state-owned planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC) said on Wednesday.

“We are working hard to achieve our maiden voyage by around the end of 2016,” Lu Zheng, COMAC’s deputy head of marketing, said at a press conference in Beijing.

The C919 narrowbody jet is currently undergoing rigorous testing and is the first large-scale Chinese civilian plane developed in accordance with international test-flight standards, Lu said.

China is keen to establish itself as a global supplier of aircraft and it hopes the C919 will compete with Boeing Co’s 737 and Airbus Group SE’s A320. It also plans to produce a larger widebody plane in a joint venture with Russia.

However, it has been held back by inexperience, a shortage of local aerospace design and engineering talent, as well as a lack of home-grown companies with the technology to help drive the project, say aerospace industry sources familiar with its programmes. The challenges have led to multiple delays for the C919, as well as the ARJ-21 which made its maiden commercial flight in June. (Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Additional reporting by Adam Jourdan in Shanghai; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)