China's first large aircraft to fly by 2018
A senior aviation industry executive said Wednesday he anticipates China's first large aircraft to fly by 2018.
Liu Gaozhuo, president of the China Aviation Industry Corp I, said China needs to make large transport and passenger planes to meet ever surging demands for air services.
"We've seen tremendous market needs -- both civilian and military -- for large planes in the years ahead," said Liu, whose company is a major producer of military and civilian aircraft in China.
Large aircraft refers to aircraft with load capacity exceeding 100 tons. Used for both military and civilian purposes, they include cargo and passenger carriers with 200 seats, Liu said.
China has listed large aircraft in its massive science and technology development programme for the coming 10 to 20 years, according to sources with the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The country's civil aviation fleet will have to add 1,400 large jet liners by the year 2022, according to Wang Boxue, a senior researcher with the Aviation Industry Development Research Centre of China.
If all are imported, as in the past, they will cost at least US$100 billion, say industry insiders.
"But China's aviation sector will be incomplete without developing its own civil aircraft industry," said Liu. "Neither could China elevate itself as an aviation power if it does not develop large aircraft by itself."
For national defence purposes as well as for the market, China's aviation industry decision makers have thrown their weight behind large aircraft. However, they have to face the fact that Boeing and Airbus combined are de facto sole suppliers of large aircraft in China.
Liu was confident. "Three years ago, when I announced ARJ21, China's advanced regional jet programme, everybody asked me how could I manage to sell it since the world's leading regional jet makers, like Canada's Bombardier Inc and Brazil's Embraer Aircraft Industry Co, are already there," Liu said.
But before manufacturing of ARJ21 officially started in December, the China Aviation Industry Corp I had already clinched 35 orders for ARJ21 jets valued at many millions of US dollars, Liu said.
"Because we offer regional jets of the best quality but at a price and operational cost lower than foreign counterparts," Liu said. "More importantly, we provide products that most suit Chinese market needs."
Unlike current regional planes operating in China, for example, ARJ21 can adjust to the high altitudes and high temperatures of China's western airports and provides passengers an environment as comfortable as in large airliners like Boeing or Aircraft models, according to Tang Xiaoping, president of Commercial Aircraft Co, a subsidiary of Liu's company.
"I believe the same will be true for China's large aircraft programme," Liu said.
He said China is capable of producing planes with load capacity below 100 tons. With that expertise China's aviation industry has accumulated over the past five decades, particularly the experience in exploring markets and satisfying customers' needs, it is very feasible for the large aircraft project to be materialized, he said.
"As a late-starter, we can find things that need to be further improved in the current commercial large aircraft; we can also identify new demands of the clients, and incorporate improvements in designing our own large aircraft," Liu said.
Since 1970s, China has sought to develop civil aircraft, first by itself, then through means of subcontracting and co-operation. The efforts have virtually ended in failure, either because the planes made could not match clients' needs, or China did not own independent intellectual property rights, Liu said.
"In developing large aircraft, we'll count on ourselves so we'll own the intellectual property rights, meanwhile we will seek international co-operation," Liu said.
Liu said China will develop large cargo aircraft before developing large passenger aircraft.
Fu Huimin, a professor of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said he believes the time is ripe for China to initiate the large aircraft programme.
In terms of funding, Fu suggested raising funds from private businesses. This will help speed up the reform of research and development of China's scientific projects, he said.