Domestic turboprop to make maiden flight in 2015

Updated: 2011-11-29 11:13

By Ding Qingfen and Wang Wen (China Daily)

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XI'AN - The MA700, the Chinese-designed turboprop regional aircraft, is set to make its maiden flight in 2015 and help China tap the developed markets, a high-level executive told China Daily.

"We have already wrapped up the global market research on the MA700 project", said Zhu Jianxin, director of research and development at AVIC Xi'an Aircraft Industry (Group) Co Ltd (XAC).

"The MA700 project is in the design phase, and the aircraft is expected to make its maiden flight in 2015," he said.

The MA700 is a high-end product of the MA family, which already has two members - the MA60 and the MA600.

XAC is a subsidy of the Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), a consortium of aircraft manufacturers.

A prototype of the MA700 was displayed at the Aviation Expo China 2011 in Beijing. The plane will seat 70 to 90 passengers.

As of October, XAC had delivered 66 MA60 aircraft, mainly to customers in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. In 2008, Indonesia-based Merpati Nusantara Airlines ordered 15 MA60s, the largest single foreign order.

Deliveries of the MA600 aircraft, which is based on the MA60 but costs slightly more, began last year. XAC had 16 orders for the MA600 as of mid-November.

"The MA60 and MA600 are mainly sold in less-developed markets. We expect that the MA700 could help us crack the developed markets, including the United States and European Union ... as every indicator of the MA700 is better than many ordinary regional aircraft," said Zhu.

"We plan to obtain airworthiness certificates in Europe and the US first, after the maiden flight in 2015," he added.

Worldwide, there are two main turboprop regional aircraft makers: Canada-based Bombardier Inc and France-based ATR Aircraft.

AVIC forecast this month that global turboprop demand will reach 2,020 over the next 20 years.

High-level XAC officials were quoted by the National Business Daily as saying that the company aims to have 40 percent of the global turboprop regional aircraft market by 2018.

"XAC aims to be a major turboprop regional aircraft manufacturer worldwide in the long term," said Zhu.

However, the company has far to go to achieve its goals, said experts.

The global turboprop market is dominated by Bombardier and ATR, with the latter reportedly holding a 50 percent share.

"We still lag far behind foreign competitors", said Zhu.

In addition to tough competition, "it's difficult to enter developed markets alone, and getting a good partner overseas is very important," said Wei Chenggang, an aviation industry analyst at Shanghai Securities Co Ltd.