China announced a 100-plane order for its first commercial jetliner, a first step in its ambitions to challenge Airbus and Boeing for a slice of a global market worth $1.7 trillion.
State-owned COMAC, or Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, unveiled the orders at the country's largest air show, ending a dearth of orders in the two years since it launched designs for the 150-seat C919.
As air travel expands with a billion Chinese predicted to be flying for business and leisure early next decade, China wants to reduce its reliance on foreign planes and foster a domestic industry worthy of a country capable of putting a man in space.
COMAC said the orders came from four Chinese airlines and from the leasing arm of General Electric, which will supply the C919 engines together with France's Safran.
It is the first time buyers have committed to the aircraft, which COMAC expects to start building next year, followed by a maiden flight in 2014 and first delivery in 2016.
"The customer signing lays a market foundation for the C919, which has smoothly entered the engineering development phase," COMAC chairman Zhang Qingwei said in a statement.
COMAC aims sell 2,000 C919 aircraft but engine maker CFM International, co-owned by GE and Safran, said it expected about half that. This is still a third of the market forecast by Boeing for aircraft in that size category over 20 years.
China is just one potential challenger for Airbus and Boeing with Russia, Brazil, Canada and Japan all working on designs.
As the country's first homegrown large commercial aircraft to enter full development, the C919 is intended to compete with Boeing's 737 and Airbus's A320 in the narrow-body segment. Boeing expects that segment to generate total worldwide sales of more than 21,000 planes worth $1.7 trillion over the next 20 years.
Analysts said foreign airlines would be sceptical about buying the plane until it had proven itself in service, but the signing is the biggest breakthrough for the politically sensitive project since it was launched in 2008.
Buyers for the C919 announced on Tuesday included the country's three top airlines Air China, China Eastern and China Southern, as well as HNA Group, the parent of Hainan Airlines.
GE's leasing arms GECAS, owner of one of the world's biggest airliner fleets, agreed to buy an unspecified number of aircraft, as did the financing arm of China Development Bank.