60-seat MA600, the first China-made regional aircraft, is unveiled in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province June 29, 2008. [Xinhua]
XI'AN -- The first China-made regional aircraft Modem Ark (MA)600 was completed on Sunday, marking a milestone in China's drive to be one of the world's leading providers of turboprop regional aircraft.
The research and development of the 70-seat MA700 was also underway, head of the preparation group for the China Aviation Industry Group Corporation Lin Zuomin announced at the Xi'an Aircraft Industry(Group) Company Ltd.
The 60-seat MA600, an improved version of the MA60, was 300 kilograms lighter, making it 40 percent more fuel efficient than turbofan-powered aircraft, said president of the Xi'an company Meng Xiangkai.
Improvements were also made in the power system, cabin design and flight capacities.
After five years, China would be able to deliver its own turbo-prop regional jet series of the MA60, MA600, MA700 catered to different users, said Lin.
The country would strive for a bigger market share comparable to its rivals, Canada's Bombardier and France's ATR. he said.
The MA600 was scheduled to make its maiden flight in September, and early promotion activities had attracted interest from many carriers. The main marketing drive would begin next year 2009.
Beijing Youth Daily has reported that 10 to 15 MA600s would be manufactured in the next two years. Up to 30 a year could be made according to market demand. Mass production would start in late 2009.
Company officials could give no information on the cost of the aircraft.
The China Aerospace Industry Research Center forecast 5,300 to 5,500 regional aircraft would be needed in the next 20 years, of which 1,900 would be turboprop aircraft.
Turbo propeller regional aircraft are commonly used on short and medium range flights.
Nearly half of the regional jets flying in Europe and North America are turbo-propelled. The demand for the relatively environment-friendly aircraft is expected to rise with global oil prices.
Regional aircraft account for just 12 percent of China's aircraft, and many large jets are flying regional routes, causing a waste of resources.
Experts say turbo propelled regional aircraft are the most economical and energy-efficient on short and medium range flights, laying the market foundation for the MA series.
Chen Fusheng, an official with the China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I) said the MA700 would be aimed at markets in developed countries.
It would be designed to meet demand for the next 20 years, Chen said.
Powered by the Pratt and Whitney PW-127J turboprop engines, MA60 is China's first regional plane designed and produced in line with international standards.
The MA60, with a maximum speed of 514 km/h and a range of 2,450 km or four hours, was first tested in 1993 and approved in June 2000 for commuter services as its primary role.
It has received 122 orders, of which 15 have been delivered to Africa, with Zimbabwe and Zambia among the buyers.
The ARJ21 Xiang Feng, in which AVIC I holds all the intellectual property rights, is set to debut in September.