Airbus Delivers First China-made Jet

Company's goal is to gain half of the China market from now until 2012, compared with a 39% market share in mid-2008

Airbus delivered the first A320 aircraft made at its factory in China on June 23, saying the event symbolized its long-term focus on the growing Chinese market.

The plane was delivered to Dragon Aviation Leasing and will be used by Sichuan Airlines, a regional Chinese air carrier whose markings were already on it. It was to be flown to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, later on June 23 and put into service the following day, officials said.

The jet was the first to be completed at an Airbus factory outside Europe and company CEO Thomas Enders said it underlined the consortium's long-term relationship with China, one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets."We will build a strong future with the China aviation industry and for the China aviation industry," he said. "(Airbus) will be working increasingly with our partners in China, setting new standards."

Tianjin mayor Huang Xingguo called Tuesday's event "a historic day" for Sino-European cooperation."We will further cooperate to write a new chapter in Chinese and European cooperation," Huang said.

Ten middle-distance A319/320 aircraft will be delivered by the end of the year, and the factory will then start to churn out up to four planes a month before the end of 2011. Laurence Barron, president of Airbus China, said the company would sell a total of 70 planes for use in China this year.

Airbus said some 490 of its jets had been put into service in China so far.

The Tianjin plant, modelled on Airbus' factory in Hamburg, Germany, has an investment of nearly 10 billion yuan (US$1.47 billion) and went into operation in September. The joint-venture factory, about 120 kilometers (72 miles) southeast of Beijing, is 51% owned by Airbus, a subsidiary of the European group EADS, and 49% by a Chinese aviation consortium. These planes, of which 190 are expected to be jumbo jets, are valued at about $329 billion.

The decision to build the China plant was based on strong growth estimates that predict the nation will buy up to 2,800 passenger and transport planes over the next 20 years. In the next two decades, passenger travel is forecast to increase five-fold, according to industry estimates. China's air market, the second biggest in the world, makes up 15% of sales at Airbus, which sold its first plane here -- an A310 -- in 1985.

Airbus' goal is to gain half of the China market from now until 2012, compared with a 39% market share in mid-2008 and up from 7% in 1995. Its main rival is current global market leader Boeing.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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