SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's C919 passenger jet expects to make its maiden flight within the first half of this year as it has completed almost all major tests, state media reported on Monday, in a boost for Beijing's ambitions to compete with global aircraft makers.

The People's Daily newspaper said the plane had started preparation for its much-delayed first flight and had nearly finished the installation of onboard systems.

The C919's maiden flight has been delayed at least twice since 2014 due to production issues. China first gave the world a glimpse of the plane in November 2015 at a roll-out ceremony in Shanghai.

The narrow-body aircraft, which will be able to carry 156-168 passengers and aims to compete with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, is a key symbol of China's ambitions to establish itself as a global supplier of aircraft.

"We tested the whole aircraft, its key components and connecting parts," the Xinhua news agency quoted Li Qiang, an expert at planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China's (COMAC) [CMAFC.UL] design and research Center, as saying.

China Eastern Airlines is the launch customer for the plane. COMAC previously said that it had received 570 orders for the C919 passenger jet from 23 customers.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar)