China-Made Small Commercial Jet Begins Assembly

First step toward becoming an aerospace power.

China will begin assembling the prototype of its first home-made commercial jet, the company said March 29, bringing the nation one step closer to its ambition of becoming an aerospace power. Built by the China Aviation Industry Corp, the country's biggest military aircraft maker, the assembly in Shanghai will start on March 30 and is scheduled to be completed by December.

"The ARJ-21 will come off the production line by the end of 2007 and start the flight trials in March 2008," an official with subsidiary Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (SAMF) said. The ARJ-21 jet, a small regional passenger plane with 70 to 90 seats, will make its maiden flight a year from now, and is expected to enter the commercial market in the third quarter of 2009, according to the Shanghai Daily. It also said quoted the president of the SAMF Wang Wenbin said production capacity would be about 50 jets a year.

Since launching the project in December 2003, the wholly state-run aviation group has received 71 orders for the ARJ-21, all from domestic airlines, the paper said.

China's government announced last week plans to build a large passenger aircraft which could eventually take on the world's two dominant commercial jet makers Boeing and Airbus. China has repeatedly stated it wants to lessen its reliance on Boeing of the U.S. and Europe's Airbus, by building its own planes.

"The global trend in the aircraft manufacturing industry is to invite foreign partners to invest and co-develop components and products and share the profits and risks," said Fu Shula, president of China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp, an affiliate of China Aviation Industry. "China is likely to adopt this model in the development of its own big aircraft," Fu said.

About 40% of the AJR-21's parts are made by foreign manufacturers, such as General Electric, Honeywell and Parker Hannifin.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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