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China's First Large Aircraft to Fly by 2018

A senior aviation industry executive said Wednesday he anticipates China's first large aircraft to fly by 2018. Liu Gaozhuo, president of the China Aviation Industry Corp., said China needs to make large transport and passenger planes to meet surging demand for air services.


"We see tremendous market needs--both civilian and military--for large planes in the years ahead," said Liu, whose company is a major producer of military and civilian aircraft in China.


Large aircraft are those with load capacity exceeding 100 tons. Used for both military and civilian purposes, they include cargo planes and passenger carriers with 200 seats or more, Liu said.


China has listed large aircraft in its massive science and technology development program for the coming 10 to 20 years, according to sources with the Ministry of Science and Technology.


The country's civil aviation fleet will have to add 1,400 large jet liners by the year 2022, according to Wang Boxue, a senior researcher with the Aviation Industry Development Research Center.


If all are imported, as in the past, they will cost at least US$100 billion, say industry insiders.


"But China's aviation sector will be incomplete without developing its own civil aircraft industry," said Liu. "China cannot elevate itself as an aviation power if it does not develop large aircraft by itself."


For national defense purposes as well as for the market, China's aviation industry decision makers have thrown their weight behind large aircraft. However, at present Boeing and Airbus combined are the de facto sole suppliers of large aircraft in China.


Liu was confident. "Three years ago, when I announced the ARJ21, China's advanced regional jet program, everybody asked me how could I manage to sell it since the world's leading regional jet makers, like Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer Aircraft Industry, are already there," Liu said.


But even before manufacturing officially started in December, China Aviation Industry had already clinched 35 orders for ARJ21 jets valued at many millions of US dollars, Liu said.


"It's because we offer regional jets of the best quality but at a price and operational cost lower than foreign counterparts," Liu said. "More importantly, we provide the products that best suit Chinese market needs."


Unlike regional planes currently operating in China, for example, the ARJ21 can adjust to the high altitudes and high temperatures of China's western airports and provides passengers an environment as comfortable as those of large airliners like Boeing or Airbus models, according to Tang Xiaoping, president of Commercial Aircraft Co., a subsidiary of China Aviation Industry.


"I believe the same will be true for China's large aircraft program," Liu said.


He said China is capable of producing planes with load capacity below 100 tons. With the expertise China's aviation industry has accumulated over the past five decades, particularly in exploring and understanding the market, the large aircraft project is quite feasible, he said.


"As a late starter, we can find things that need to be improved in the existing large commercial aircraft. We can also identify new client needs and incorporate improvements in our own large aircraft designs," Liu said.


China has sought to develop civil aircraft since the 1970s, first by itself and then through subcontracting and cooperation. The efforts have virtually ended in failure, either because the planes made did not match clients' needs, or China did not own independent intellectual property rights, Liu said.


"In developing large aircraft, we'll count on ourselves so we'll own the intellectual property rights. Meanwhile, we will seek international cooperation," Liu said.


Liu said China will develop large cargo aircraft before developing large passenger aircraft.


Fu Huimin, a professor of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said he believes the time is ripe for China to initiate the large aircraft program.


Fu suggested raising funds from private businesses for the program. This will help speed the reform of research and development of China's scientific projects, he said.


(China Daily March 18, 2004)

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