China To Build Large Jet To Rival Boeing, Airbus

China doesn't want to rely on imported planes in the long run.

China announced March 19 it had approved a plan to build large passenger aircraft which analysts said could take on Boeing and Airbus, not just at home but eventually on the world market. The plan is to "design and build airplanes that can carry more than 150 passengers and compete with Airbus and Boeing," the state-run China Daily said. Even if challenging the two western behemoths -- something Russia is reportedly also trying to do -- might seem over-ambitious, local experts said China could pull it off.

"We have experience developing military planes," said Cao Huiling, a professor of aeronautical engineering at the Civil Aviation University of China. "The budget is not a problem if the government wants to make the project successful."

"I expect the plane will be sold in domestic markets first, and then be exported overseas. If we produce it, we will try to make it to the same standard as Boeing or Airbus," Cao added.

However experts said it would be a long journey before large Chinese passenger jets took to the skies and China must be prepared to import key parts from abroad. China's experience has so far been limited to manufacturing smaller, regional aircraft, with the ARJ-21 of up to 105 seats expected to begin delivery in 2009, according to state media.

Observers have said, however, that a new Airbus assembly plant for its A320 jets now under construction near Beijing could be one stepping stone towards obtaining greater technological know how in the segment for larger planes.

There have also been previous, scattered indications in public statements and state-run media reports about China's growing aviation ambitions. China Aviation Corp I, a major aerospace company, said this month it was looking to develop a new generation of aircraft engines to reduce its reliance on foreign manufacturers. "As a country with a huge demand for large-sized planes, it is absolutely unimaginable to rely on imports of aero-engines for long," Liu Daxiang, the company's deputy chief of science and technology, told the China Daily.

Airbus estimates China will need 2,650 passenger planes from 2006 to 2025. This forecast comes on the back of impressive growth rates in civil aviation in China, fueled by an economy that expanded by 10.7% last year. About 160 million passengers flew on Chinese airlines during 2006, a rise of 15% on the previous year, according to previously released official statistics.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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