Airbus delivered its first China-assembled A320 jet on Tuesday in the northern port city of Tianjin, the base of the manufacturer's only final assembly line outside Europe.
The plane was delivered to Beijing-based Dragon Aviation Leasing, which will lease it to Sichuan Airlines. The plane will first fly on the Chengdu-Beijing route Wednesday.
The aircraft had conducted a successful four-hour test flight on May 18 from the Tianjin Binhai International Airport.
"Our final assembly line here in Tianjin and this first aircraft delivery outside Europe mark an important milestone in our strategic long-term partnership with China and the Chinese industry," said Thomas Enders, Airbus president and CEO, at the delivery ceremony.
Enders said the A320 planes assembled in Tianjin shared the same standards as those made in Europe.
Tianjin Mayor Huang Xingguo said the progress proved the settlement of the Airbus project in Tianjin was a right choice of strategic significance and a good example of successful cooperation between China and Europe.
The second A320 plane assembled by the Tianjin plant conducted a successful test flight Monday afternoon, according to Jean Luc Charles, general manager of the Airbus (Tianjin) Final Assembly Line Co,Ltd. It will be delivered to Hainan Airlines by the end of July.
The factory is expected to deliver a total of 11 A320 aircraft this year to Dragon Aviation Leasing and domestic carriers such as China Eastern Airlines Corp, Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines Ltd.
Airbus would deliver 70 aircraft to China this year, said Laurence Barron, president of Airbus China, at a press conference after the delivery.
With an investment of more than 7 billion yuan ($1 billion), the Tianjin assembly plant started operation in September 2008.
It is 51 percent owned by Airbus and 49 percent owned by Tianjin Zhongtian Aviation Industry Investment Co, a Chinese consortium that includes Tianjin Free Trade Zone and China Aviation Industry Corporation.
China introduced its first Airbus aircraft in 1985. By the end of April, the number of Airbus aircraft in operation on the mainland hit 488, compared with 29 in 1995, according to Airbus data.
Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told reporters Tuesday the country's aircraft orders were unaffected by the global downturn.
The country's airline companies would buy 243 aircraft this year, said Li, adding that no other countries would have such a figure.
On Monday, Airbus signed a memo on aviation leasing and financing cooperation with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country's largest commercial bank.
The bank will provide financing worth 20 billion yuan for airlines that buy Airbus aircraft made in the Tianjin factory over the next five years. The financing could cover 70 A320 aircraft.
China Eastern Airlines Corp. signed a deal in Paris on June 18 to buy 20 A320 passenger jets from Airbus to meet potential demand increase in its domestic market.
The total cost was around 9.9 billion yuan, and the aircraft would be delivered between 2011 and 2013, according to the carrier.
China set up its first ever large passenger aircraft company in Shanghai in May, 2008, taking a major step forward in its large jet program to meet the demand of fast growing domestic market.
According to industry estimates, China will need about 3,000 passenger aircraft over the next 20 years.
Analysts believe that China will play a bigger role in the world's aviation industry with the Tianjin line in operation, as final assembly lines stand for core competitiveness of aviation manufacturers.
"As a world aviation giant, what Airbus brings to China is not only the delivery of dozens of planes every year, but more importantly, the huge aviation industry chain, which will push the industrial upgrading of the whole region," said Liu Gang, professor of economics at Tianjin-based Nankai University.
"The industrial cooperation is also conducive to developing the country's own innovative abilities in the sector," Liu said. Six aviation companies in China produce plane parts for Airbus.