DALIAN, China/BEIJING -- China's first domestically made aircraft carrier left port Sunday on its maiden sea trials, suggesting the vessel may enter into service in 2019, a year earlier than expected.
Building up China's blue-water navy forms part of President Xi Jinping's vision to transform the country into a maritime power.
Tugboats led the carrier, known only as Type 001A, away from the pier in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian where it is being built, around 6:40 a.m. The ship faded into the early morning mist about 30 minutes later.
The basic design follows that of the Liaoning -- China's first and only operational aircraft carrier, a rebuilt Soviet-made ship bought from Ukraine.
The Chinese-made carrier, launched in April 2017, features a non-nuclear propulsion system and a curved "ski jump" takeoff ramp. The vessel now begins testing of its oceangoing readiness in the Yellow and Bohai seas between China and the Korean Peninsula.
Chinese media had reported that sea trials would begin at the start of 2019, but construction apparently has moved at a quicker pace. Observers had expected the ship to leave port after provincial authorities issued intermittent travel bans in the Bohai Sea starting last month.
China is said to be building another aircraft carrier in Shanghai. State-owned China Shipbuilding Industry announced plans in February for a nuclear-powered carrier.