ZHUHAI, CHINA -- China will need 4,960 commercial airplanes over the next 20 years -- representing a value of $563 billion -- the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday, as air-travel demand is expected to increase.

The Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) also forecast that China will require 4,273 "large" passenger planes from now until 2031, the report said.

The forecast for all commercial airplanes -- large and small -- is lower than a similar estimate by Boeing Co. released in September that said China will need 5,260 commercial jets by 2031.

COMAC, which gave the estimate on the sidelines of China's premier airshow held in the southern city of Zhuhai, also said the country's air-passenger volume will grow more than 7% annually in the next two decades.

Air-travel demand in China has soared in line with the country's decades of surging economic growth that have made it the world's second-biggest economy and seen its increasingly wealthy consumers take to the skies.

Chinese airlines carried 292 million domestic passengers last year, up 9.2% from 2010, according to official figures.

COMAC itself is developing two planes, a regional jet and a larger aircraft aimed at challenging the dominance of industry giants Boeing Co. (IW 1000/53) and Airbus, a unit of EADS NV (IW 1000/59).

The Chinese company said it received 50 orders for the challenger -- a medium-range commercial jet called the C919 -- at the airshow, bringing the total to 380, Xinhua said in a separate report.

The company aims to hold the maiden flight of the C919 in 2014 and bring the aircraft to the market in 2016, Xinhua said.

The C919 will have up to 168 seats with a maximum range of 3,450 miles, according to COMAC's website.

Industry officials say the C919 will compete with Boeing and Airbus in the medium-range sector, which represents 70% of China's market.

Shanghai-based COMAC is now testing prototypes of its smaller regional jet -- the ARJ21 -- but it has ambitious plans to assemble 50 of them a year by 2014, state media reported earlier this month.

European consortium Airbus had 853 planes in service in China by the end of October, accounting for about half of China's total fleet of aircraft of more than 100 seats, the company said in a statement released at the airshow.

It plans to deliver a total of 120 new aircraft -- mainly A320s -- to Chinese airlines for all of this year, the statement said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012