The Airbus A320 airplane seen in Chengdu airport yesterday. [China Daily]
"Anxiety, and a little bit of doubt" - these were the words flight attendant Zou Xue used to describe her feelings before taking off on the first Airbus A320 assembled in China.
"My family members and some friends doubted whether this aircraft would work the same way as those made in Europe," said Zou, who has accumulated 6,500 flight hours at Sichuan Airlines during the past eight years.
As soon as the plane touched down at Chengdu airport at 5:10 pm after flying two hours and 15 minutes from Tianjin, Zou said she was completely sure that "it is exactly the same as those delivered in Europe".
Airbus yesterday delivered the first A320 aircraft assembled in China to Dragon Aviation Leasing. Sichuan Airlines will operate the jet, painted with a red dragon on its body. It will start flying commercially to Beijing from today. The airline will deploy the aircraft on the Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei routes.
The A320 final assembly line in Tianjin will roll out 10 more aircraft this year and the jets will be delivered to Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.
Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO, told China Daily that the company would retain its original plan to ramp up the production rate at Tianjin, to assemble four jets per month by the end of 2011.
The Tianjin factory was launched in September last year as the company's first aircraft final assembly line outside Europe.
It has been regarded as a strategic project for Airbus, not only to generate incremental sales in China, but also to ramp up the production capacity of its best-selling single-aisle A320 family of aircraft to meet strong market demand.
But the international aviation market has deteriorated as the global financial crisis has crimped travel demand and dried up financing options for airlines. Airbus said in mid February that it would cut the monthly output of A320s from 36 to 34 starting October. That had cast doubts on the future of the A320 factory in Tianjin.
"Everybody assumes that at least from next year the economy will start to grow again. At this point, we have no reason to make any different assumption about our production ramp-up plan in Tianjin," Enders clarified.
Airbus' US rival, Boeing, said last week during the Paris air show that the downturn in the commercial aircraft market has hit bottom and a recovery will come next year.
"The situation in China is much better than the rest of the world. China's domestic air traffic was growing at double-digit rates in the year's first five months, despite slackening international air traffic, which ultimately depends on the world economy," said Laurence Barron, Airbus China president.
China's domestic passenger traffic grew 17.3 percent year-on-year in the year's first four months, while passenger traffic on international routes dropped 17.2 percent year-on-year, according to statistics from the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Sichuan Airlines is the largest carrier in China with a pure Airbus fleet of 40 A320s. It was the first Chinese airline to introduce the A320 family of aircraft to China in 1995. It plans to expand its Airbus fleet to 96 jets by 2012.