by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 16, 2010
China on Tuesday won orders for 100 of its large, domestically built passenger jets, challenging industry giants Airbus and Boeing in what will soon become the world's largest aviation market.
China's three largest airlines signed deals to buy the C919, as did other firms including the aircraft leasing arm of General Electric, the official Global Times newspaper said on its website.
The Chinese airlines involved are Air China, China Southern and China Eastern.
Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the jet's manufacturer, announced the deals at the Zhuhai Airshow in the southern province of Guangdong, but did not say how many planes were in each order or for how much.
The C919 -- a single-aisle jet that can seat up to 190 passengers -- is China's first large homegrown passenger jet, and is seen as a potential competitor to the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.
A prototype of the C919 was unveiled in Zhuhai on Monday. The plane is due to make a trial flight in 2014 and should be delivered to clients in 2016.
Wu Guanghui, chief designer of the plane and COMAC vice president, said the Chinese firm had forecast demand for C919s in the domestic and overseas markets to hit 2,000, according to the official China Daily.
It did not give a timeframe for that estimate.
COMAC refused to comment when contacted by AFP.
The plane is a key part of China's plan to break the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing in the production of large commercial jets, which it currently relies on to fuel its domestic aviation market -- soon to become the world's biggest.
Just two weeks ago, Airbus signed a deal worth 14 billion dollars to supply 102 airliners to Chinese firms.
Air traffic in China, which has doubled in the past decade, is again expected to double by 2020, with the number of airports set to grow from 160 to 240, according to forecasts drawn up by the European planemaker.
And the head of China's civil aviation administration said last month that the country would have up to 5,000 aircraft to transport passengers and cargo by 2015, state media reported.
News of the signings comes just one day after China announced plans to ease controls on low-altitude flights in a move that could boost the nation's fledgling private aviation sector.
Current regulations are strict, requiring private pilots to apply for hard-to-get approval to fly in low-altitude airspace.
The official People's Daily said the reform was expected to encourage more people to own private jets and give a boost to other civil aviation missions such as the use of disaster-relief helicopters.
The Asian nation, with the world's second-largest number of dollar billionaires, is widely viewed as a potentially rich future market for private and leisure aviation.
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