Chinese airplane manufacturers hope to make a big splash in the global aviation industry with a new made-in-China regional jet that went into production over the weekend.
Production of the ARJ21 started simultaneously at factories in Shanghai, Xi'an, Chengdu and Shenyang on Saturday.
By 2005, the Shanghai facility will assemble the finished planes out of parts produced in factories across the country, according to officials.
China Aviation Industry Corp I, a state-owned manufacturer of both civilian and military planes, set up a subsidiary - AVICI Commercial Aircraft Co Ltd - to make the regional jet, which it says will cost 10 percent less than regional jets produced by foreign rivals.
The ARJ21, which stands for "advanced regional jet for the 21st century," is designed to seat between 78 and 85 passengers in a basic model and 98 to 105 people in an enlarged model, according to the company.
A test plane should be ready by 2006, with the company expected to get the aircraft licensed by the end of 2007 and begin delivering finished jets to customers by the start of 2008.
To date, ACAC has received 35 orders for the jet, but Vice General Manager Chen Jin said the company expects to sell about 500 of the planes over the next 20 years.
"We will explore the overseas market in the near future. As the plane is designed to fly under terrible geographic conditions like high temperatures or plateaus in China's western regions, it'll suit countries in Southeast Asia and South America," said ACAC official Wang Wenqi.
"Though we haven't received any overseas orders yet, foreign customers are quite interested in the plane as many said it is very spacious and comfortable at the Paris Air show this year," Wang said.
ACAC is still looking for help financing the project and may begin looking for private or foreign investors.
ACAC says it spent 5 billion yuan to develop the jet, with the government putting up about half of that money.
(Shanghai Daily December 22, 2003)