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China completes production of own passenger plane

SHANGHAI (AFP) – China’s first big passenger plane rolled off the assembly line on Monday as the Asian giant seeks to develop its own aviation sector and challenge foreign industry giants for prestige and market share.

The C919, a narrow-body jet which can seat 168 passengers, has been under production at a facility in commercial hub Shanghai for over a year, as workers assembled components under the guidance of Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC).

For China, the plane represents years of efforts in a state-mandated drive to reduce dependence on European consortium Airbus and Boeing of the United States, and even compete against them.

“The roll out of the first C919 aircraft marks a significant milestone in the development of China’s first indigenous aircraft,” COMAC chairman Jin Zhuanglong told an audience of government and industry officials.

But the aircraft, which has a range of up to 5,555 kilometres (3,444 miles), will not make its first test flight this year as originally scheduled, Jin said, with the maiden voyage planned for 2016. The China Daily newspaper has reported it could even be put back to 2017.