China Likely to Seek Foreign Partners for Jetliner

China will likely seek foreign partners in developing a large domestically produced commercial aircraft, an aviation industry executive was quoted as saying Thursday.

The Shanghai Daily newspaper said China's government plans to set up an entirely new company to take on the project, which was given formal approval by the cabinet earlier this month.

China has set a target of 2020 for production of a large commercial aircraft, a design that will seat more than 150 passengers with a 100-ton payload.

However, foreign partners will likely be sought to help reduce risk, Fu Shula, president of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp., said in the report.

"The global trend in the aircraft manufacturing industry is to invite foreign partners to invest and codevelop components and products and share the profits and risks," Fu said, according to the paper.

"China is likely to adopt the model in the development of its own big aircraft," Fu said in comments made at a ceremony at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory to mark its delivery of the 1,000th set of horizontal stabilizers for Boeing's Next-Generation 737 aircraft on Wednesday.

Fu's company, also known as CATIC, is a subsidiary of state-owned China Aviation Industry Corporation I, or AVIC I, which is building China's first commercial jet airliner, the mid-size ARJ-21 regional jet.

A CATIC spokesman who declined to give his name said he had no information about the company's involvement in the large aircraft project. An AVIC I spokesman who also declined to be identified said no information could be released about the project. Calls to the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory rang unanswered.

China abandoned a project to build large aircraft in the 1970s, but has since acquired considerable aviation engineering expertise by making components for both Boeing Co. and Airbus SA. Airbus recently agreed to open a final assembly line for its mid-size A320 aircraft in the northern city of Tianjin.

However, considerable foreign input will likely still be needed on any future projects. Despite the ARJ-21's reputation as homegrown, about 40 percent of its components are produced by 19 separate foreign manufacturers.

Initial versions of the ARJ, or "Advanced Regional Jet," are expected to carry 70-110 passengers. Although test flights aren't planned for next year, AVIC I claims to have already booked 71 orders for the plane from Chinese airlines.

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