China hails first home made Airbus jet

TIANJIN: European aviation giant Airbus delivered the first A320 aircraft made at its factory in China on Tuesday, in an event hailed as a landmark in Sino-European cooperation.

A giant red curtain was pulled back to reveal the jet in a hanger during a ceremony at the factory outside the northern Chinese city of Tianjin.

The jet was the first to be completed at an Airbus factory outside Europe and company CEO Thomas Enders said it underlined the consortium's long-term relationship with China, one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets.

"We will build a strong future with the China aviation industry and for the China aviation industry," he said.

"(Airbus) will be working increasingly with our partners in China, setting new standards." The plane was delivered to Dragon Aviation Leasing and will be used by Sichuan Airlines, a regional Chinese air carrier whose markings were already on it.

It was to be flown to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, later on Tuesday, officials said.

Tianjin mayor Huang Xingguo called Tuesday's event "a historic day" for Sino-European cooperation.

"We will further cooperate to write a new chapter in Chinese and European cooperation," Huang said.

The ceremony also was attended by the British and French ambassadors to China, German State Secretary Hartmut Schauerte and other top Tianjin officials.

Ten middle-distance A319/320 aircraft will be delivered by the end of the year, and the factory will then start to churn out up to four planes a month before the end of 2011.

The Tianjin plant, modelled on Airbus' factory in Hamburg, Germany, has an investment of nearly 10 billion yuan (1.47 billion dollars) and went into operation in September in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

The joint-venture factory, about 120 kilometres (72 miles) southeast of Beijing, is 51 percent owned by Airbus, a subsidiary of the European group EADS, and 49 percent by a Chinese aviation consortium.

The venture has also revealed the extent that Airbus has gone to get a foot hold in one of the world's most dynamic markets.

China's air market, the second biggest in the world, makes up 15 percent of sales at Airbus, which sold its first plane here -- an A310 -- in 1985.

The decision to build the China plant was based on strong growth estimates that predict the nation will buy up to 2,800 passenger and transport planes over the next 20 years.

These planes, of which 190 are expected to be jumbo jets, are valued at about 329 billion dollars.

In the next two decades, passenger travel is forecast to increase five-fold, according to industry estimates.

Airbus' goal is to gain half of the China market from now until 2012, compared with a 39 percent market share in mid-2008 and up from seven percent in 1995. Its main rival is current global market leader Boeing.