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China rolls out first homemade plane

China has unveiled its first domestically built passenger jet, a major milestone for the Communist nation as it pursues a decades-old dream of having its own civilian aviation sector to compete with Airbus and Boeing.

The 39-meter-long (128 feet), narrow body aircraft was towed out of a cavernous production hall on Monday and shown off to representatives of government and industry in a characteristic show of pomp.

"The rollout of the first C919 aircraft marks a significant milestone in the development of China's first indigenous aircraft," Jin Zhuanglong, chairman of China's Commercial Aircraft Corp. (COMAC), which built the plane, told gathered officials.

Workers spent a year assembling the jet and its unveiling marked the culmination of a seven-year effort to reduce China's dependence on foreign aviation giants, specifically Airbus from Europe and Boeing from the United States.

At the ceremony, China's civil aviation chief, Li Jiaxiang, said "a great nation must have its own large commercial aircraft."

Foreign parts

Be that as it may, the plane still contains key components that did not fit the bill "Made in China."

For instance, the engines were built by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric (GE) of the US and France's Safran.

The new jet was a big step, but China's dreams of an independent aviation industry are still a long way off. COMAC said it wouldn't start delivering any C919s to customers for several years, although it did note that it already had 517 orders on its books.

The project to build Chinese planes is being financed by the country's Export-Import Bank, which made available $7.9 billion (7.2 billion euros). COMAC did not say how much its first C919 had cost to build.

The new aircraft will be able to transport up to 168 passengers across a maximum distance of 5,555 kilometers (3,452 miles).

cjc/ng (AFP, dpa)

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