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China to challenge Boeing and Airbus

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Monday March 12, 2007
Guardian Unlimited (来源:英语麦当劳www.EnglishCN.com)

China plans to produce its own large commercial jet by 2020 to challenge the dominance of Airbus and Boeing in the world's fastest-growing aircraft market, the state media reported today.

Beijing has accelerated the development of a homegrown passenger aircraft to compete for the billions of dollars it is spending on foreign planes.

The blueprint for the large aircraft project will be completed by 2010, according to the Xinhua news agency, which highlighted the national prestige attached to the government-funded plan.

An aviation official described the project as an "inspiration to the nation" similar to the country's manned space programme.

But the primary motivation is economic. In a huge expansion of its air network, China is in the middle of a five-year plan to buy 500 jetliners, recruit 5,000 pilots and build 48 airports. By 2025, it expects to spend several trillion dollars more on the purchase of 2,230 planes.


Until now, domestic companies have been unable to compete for this business. But the Xinhua report said the country now had the economic power and technological skill to build large aircraft. "We are now fairly well conditioned for making large aircraft," said Liu Daxiang, deputy head of science and technology development at the aircraft manufacturers' consortium China Aviation Industry Corporation I, which will build the plane.


China had to abandon its last attempt to build a large jetliner in the 1970s, but its technological and manufacturing prowess has progressed in recent years thanks partly to its growing role as a parts supplier for foreign manufacturers. In 2004, Brazil's Embraer opened a factory in China. Airbus has agreed to open an assembly line for its mid-size A320 aircraft in the country.

"From a technical standpoint, it is realistic," Richard Pinkham, a Singapore-based analyst with the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, told the Associated Press. He said the 13-year timeframe allowed for plenty of lead time.


The prowess and confidence of China's aviation industry will be on display next year, when test flights begin of its first mid-sized commercial jet. The ARJ21 - also built by the China Aviation Industry Corporation I with support from foreign suppliers - reportedly has 70 advance orders from domestic airlines.


In the short term, the Chinese planes are not expected to compete in the international market. But they will be guaranteed strong sales domestically because the government exercises considerably influence over the airline industry.


This could dent the prospects for Boeing and Airbus, which have become increasingly dependent on the world's most populous nation. Since 2000, passenger numbers have risen by 105% to 138 million a year and the combined fleet of the country's air companies rose to 863 planes from 527. Boeing has 60 orders for its new 787 Dreamliner from China. Airbus has 100 orders, including five for the A380 super jumbo.

 

 
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