China's home-grown passenger plane was only a model at the country's premier airshow, but a growing number of orders show Beijing's drive to challenge the dominance of Boeing (IW 1000/53) and Airbus.

State-backed Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) said it won 50 orders for the planned 168-seat C919 plane at the Zhuhai airshow, which ended on Sunday, bringing the total to 380.

China's rapid economic growth is creating massive demand for planes as growing incomes boost air travel, with U.S. aviation giant Boeing estimating the country will need 5,260 commercial jets over the next 20 years.

But China wants a piece of that multibillion dollar market as it tries to develop its own technology and then look overseas for sales.

The plane is a symbol of national pride that would compete with Boeing's 737 and the A320 of European consortium Airbus, but catching up might take at least a decade, industry officials and analysts said.

The challenges are formidable: China not only needs to get the plane in the air -- targeted for 2014 -- but ramp up production and build a market by convincing buyers of its safety and reliability, they said.

"The goal of the Chinese is to be in a few years at the same level as different parties around the world -- of course Airbus and Boeing," said David Lopez Grange, general director of Spanish aeronautics firm Aritex.

"Maybe it's not a long time -- 10 years. China will be a very important player in the world in a few years," he told AFP.