China's Comac set to deliver first passenger jets

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SHANGHAI (AP) — China's state-owned aircraft maker said Wednesday it is ready to deliver the country's first homegrown regional airliner and should complete a bigger plane in 2018.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. said the first two ARJ21-700s have been completed for Chengdu Airlines and are coming to the end of the certification process. Comac, as the company is known, said it has 252 orders for the plane.

China launched the ARJ21 project in 2002 in an attempt to break into the Western-dominated aircraft market. The plane was promised for 2007 but delivery was pushed back due to technical problems.

China is expected to become one of the world's biggest aircraft markets over the next two decades. Boeing Co. forecasts total demand at 5,580 planes worth a total of $780 billion.

The ARJ21-700 can seat 78 to 90 passengers depending on its configuration, with a range of 2,225 to 3,700 kilometers (1,300 miles to 2,300 miles). Comac said it successfully completed test flights in North America in March and April and has flown 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles).

The company is targeting China's domestic market and flights to Southeast Asia.

"We first want to develop our business in China and then gradually we will go to the international market," Comac executive Tian Min told reporters at a news conference at Comac's assembly and manufacturing center in Shanghai.

Comac's larger aircraft, the C919, is a single-aisle jet meant to compete with Boeing and Airbus Industrie. It can seat up to 168 passengers and has a planned range of 4,000 to 5,100 kilometers (2,500 to 3,200 miles).

The company has received 400 orders from 16 customers, including low cost carrier Ryanair, GE Capital Aviation Services and British airlines, Tian said.

He wouldn't disclose price but said developers were focused on controlling costs.

On May 15, the first front fuselage of a C919 was delivered by a supplier to Comac, Tian said. He said its maiden flight is due in 2015 and the first delivery to a customer is slated for 2018.

Longer term, Comac is cooperating with Russia to build a next-generation wide-body plane. The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to China. Tian said Comac is working on a feasibility study with Russia.

From its beginning in 2008, Comac has focused on developing the two passenger planes. It has grown from 3,800 employees to 8,300.

Earlier news reports said the C919 maiden flight was due in 2014, with delivery in 2016. Tian said those reports were wrong, and Comac always planned for its maiden flight to be 90 months from the project launch.

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