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May 5, 2017

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City pilot to steer historic flight

FIVE crew — captain, co-pilot, observer and two engineers — will be onboard China’s first home-developed narrow-body C919 passenger jet when it makes its maiden flight this afternoon.

A backup crew is on standby in case any crew member has to pull out at the last minute.

The maiden flight from the Pudong International Airport is expected to take about two hours, the jet’s developer, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, said, and will be dependent on the weather. Visibility needs to be over 5 kilometers with no low cloud or crosswinds.

The weight of the aircraft will be reduced to a minimum level to shorten the taxiing distance and reduce takeoff speed.

The captain, Cai Jun, 41, is a former China Eastern Airlines pilot who has flown passenger aircraft for a total of 10,300 hours since 1997.

“I have full confidence for the maiden flight and feel quite proud to pilot the C919 in my hometown of Shanghai,” he said yesterday.

Cai joined COMAC in 2011 and is leader of its No. 2 test flying team. He received further training to be a test pilot and graduated from the US National Test Pilot School in 2013. He can pilot over 20 types of aircraft and has taken part in many test flights of the ARJ21, China’s first home-developed regional jet, and was the pilot carrying out C919 taxiing tests at Pudong airport.

Co-pilot Wu Xin, 42, has 11,500 hours of flying time and can also fly more than 20 types of aircraft. He also took part in ARJ21 test flights and the C919 taxiing tests.

The observer on the maiden flight will be 57-year-old senior pilot Qian Jin, who has been flying since 1979. Qian will monitor operations in the cabin during the flight.

Engineers Ma Fei and Zhang Dawei, both in their 30s, will collect flight data for future analysis from monitoring equipment installed in the cabin.

A “company aircraft” will fly with the C919 during the maiden flight to monitor flying conditions and take pictures and videos, COMAC said. Its crew will be on the lookout for any emergency situation arising during the flight and will be able to warn the C919 crew in time and guide the aircraft in the event of a forced landing. They will also monitor the airspace and prevent any intrusion during the flight, COMAC said.

China’s civil aviation regulator has issued a red alert for potential flight delays at the Pudong airport between 1pm and 3:30pm today. The C919 is due to take off from the airport’s fourth runway.

Air traffic capability at the airport will decrease to “ensure an important flying task,” the East China Regional Administration under the Civil Aviation Administration of China said.

The red alert indicates that over 90 flights could be delayed by more than four hours while another 50 could face delays of over an hour, the administration said.

The C919, which has 168 seats and a range of about 5,000 kilometers, has been designed to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. It is expected to begin commercial operations with airlines at home and abroad by 2020.


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