China Approves Airbus A320 Assembly Plant In Tianjin

European aircraft maker Airbus will build an assembly plant for its A320 planes in the northern Chinese coastal city of Tianjin, the government said Thursday, in a move that could boost sales amid fierce competition from Boeing.

The National Development and Reform Commission's Tianjin office made the decision recently, the official Xinhua News Agency said, without giving a date.

Airbus has yet to receive any formal approval from the commission, the Toulouse, France-based company's spokeswoman in China, Lindsey Mi, told The Associated Press.

Mi said Airbus would not be able to disclose details of the project until it received official approval.

According to Xinhua, the assembly plant will be located in the Binhai New District of Tianjin.

The Airbus A320 series of single-aisle jets are widely used in China, a market dominated by regional routes. In December, China ordered 150 A320 airliners.

Airbus has previously said the Chinese assembly line, which is expected to start operations at the end of next year, would produce four A320 aircraft a month - though this won't be enough to meet China's demand for the aircraft.

Analysts said the new plant, if approved, could boost sales for Airbus, which faces fierce competition from its American rival Boeing Co.

"The growth in the Chinese market for aviation has caused a big increase in the number of orders for narrow-bodied jet aircraft, so to be the first to manufacture the aircraft close to the country may give them a lead in selling it in the local market," said Andrew Miller, chief executive of the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, a consulting firm based in Sydney.

The plant would be Airbus' third final-assembly line, and the only one located outside Europe. The other two are based in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany.

Airbus last July opened an engineering center near Beijing. It already buys a small number of aircraft doors, wing components, cockpit floors and other parts from Chinese companies.

In December, it said it aims to quadruple purchases in China to $120 million by 2010.

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