AVIC puts heart into engine center with investment of $1.3b

Updated: 2012-03-01 09:22

By He Wei (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - The country took another big step on Wednesday in its move to develop a domestic aviation engine industry by 2020 with the groundbreaking for an engine assembly and testing center.

The center, set to be fully operational in a decade, will be a hub for testing spare parts and maintaining the overall performance of an indigenous aircraft engine.

According to Feng Jinzhang, head of research and development for the project, researchers have finished the comprehensive design of the engine and have just started work on components.

"The product will need to go through a series of experiments even after coming off the assembly line. There is no fixed timetable but we hope to see the engine put into use in 2020," Feng said.

The center, in which 8 billion yuan ($1.27 billion) has been invested, is a wholly owned subsidiary of AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Co Ltd, in which Aviation Industry Corp of China holds a controlling stake.

AVIC is a State-owned conglomerate that develops and mass-produces military aircraft and components for military and civilian planes.

The move means that Shanghai will become the nation's aircraft manufacturing base, Zhang Yujin, vice-president of ACAE, said at a news conference.

In the Shanghai Lingang Industrial Park, the 0.8-square-kilometer center has six zones, including areas for experimentation, assembly and maintenance.

Zhang said the assembly line will be completed by 2014 and the company aims to mass-produce engines by 2020. He said a repair center will be finished by 2013 and a customer center is due for completion the following year.

ACAE was established in 2009 to develop engines for 150-seat aircraft, allowing the conglomerate to end its reliance on foreign firms. The company set up its research and development center in Shanghai in 2010.

The domestic engine project is referred to as "China Heart", referring to the engine's role as the most critical component of an aircraft and one that takes up 20 percent of the total cost of a plane.

China imports all of its commercial plane engines, which has held it back in the global aviation market.

The domestic jumbo, the C919, will initially use imported engines when the plane makes its scheduled maiden flight in 2014.

CFM International, a 50-50 venture between Safran of France and General Electric Co of the United States, won the bid to supply engines for the plane project, a contract initially worth $10 billion.

But ACAE has vowed to domestically produce C919 engines once it masters the necessary techniques.

As part of this drive, ACAE is recruiting some 300 aviation professionals globally to fill positions ranging from engineering to technology support.

More than 25 percent of the current 515 employees have worked or studied overseas.

It is an "ambitious" goal to manufacture engines by 2020, as existing passenger-jet makers work to improve efficiency while lowering costs, said Li Lei, an aviation analyst with CITIC Securities Co Ltd.

"China lags far behind Western countries in basic disciplines such as aerodynamics and materials science, which are intractably linked to the craft of making jet engines, " Li said.

Even if the target is achieved in 2020, Li noted, the technology won't rival that used in developed countries.

Currently, only the US, Britain, France and Russia can make their own aircraft engines.