China's first home-made passenger jet unveiled

  • had 171 orders already
  • to compete in domestic and international Regional Jet market

SHANGHAI : China's first home-made passenger airliner rolled off the production line on Friday in an event hailed as a milestone in the nation's ambition to become a giant of the global aviation industry.

The ARJ-21, which stands for "Advance Regional Jetliner for the 21st Century", has a capacity of 70 to 90 seats.

It is expected to make its first test flight in March next year and enter commercial operations by late 2009, when mass production of the aircraft is set to begin.

The ARJ-21 will likely initially fly commercial routes between outlying regions to major air hubs in China helping to meet the nation's booming demand for air travel.

There were about 160 million passenger trips on Chinese airlines in 2006, a rise of 15 percent on the previous year, according to official statistics.

China is hoping its new jet will compete against Canada's Bombardier and Embraer for the world's regional jet market, with demand expected to reach up to 3,700 such aircraft over the next 20 years.

"We must organise sales, raise our capacity for mass production and ensure that the first planes fly on schedule. We must expand the market and expand sales in international markets," Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan said

Officials announced on Friday 100 new orders for the plane, bringing the total number of aircraft on order to 171.

Nearly all the orders are by Chinese domestic airliners, although Lao Airlines has reportedly signed up for two planes.

The ARJ-21 is being built by China Aviation Industry Corp, the country's biggest military aircraft maker.

The project to start building the plane began in 2003.

Although it is considered an indigenous jetliner, 40 percent of the plane is made by foreign manufacturers, including its engines, according to previous state press reports.

The plane is not the only regional airliner produced in China, as Brazilian manufacturer Embraer set up a joint venture to produce midsize commercial passenger jets in China's northeastern city of Harbin in 2002.

China also has much loftier dreams.

Early this year, the nation announced plans to build a 150-seat passenger aircraft, which could eventually compete against planes made by the world's two dominant commercial jet makers, Boeing and Airbus.


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