Tianjin plant set to boost Chinese role
Updated: 2010-12-01 15:40
By Andrew Moody (China Daily)
An aircraft mechanic works on an engine of a jet plane at the Airbus assembly plant in Tianjin. [Photo/Xinhua]
Airbus' move to set up an assembly plant in Tianjin could help pave the way to China becoming a major player in the global aviation industry.
The European aircraft giant assembles its A320 aircraft at the northern port city in a joint venture with a Chinese consortium, a major example of China having access to advanced European technology.
The Chinese government has made it clear it wants to rival Boeing and Airbus by establishing the world's third largest aircraft manufacturing operation.
Ernst Behrens, former chief executive officer of EADS, the parent company of Airbus in China, says China's intentions were clear.
"It was part of the last Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) and much more clearly stated in the coming one that China clearly wants an aviation industry," he says.
Airbus, which opened a Beijing office 20 years ago, agreed the joint venture with the Tianjin Free Trade Zone and China Aviation Industry Corporation.
The assembly plant - the company's first outside of Europe - was officially opened in 2008 and employs 500 staff, 400 of which are Chinese.
The first A320 put together there completed its maiden flight in May last year.
The first delivery was to Sichuan Airlines and it plans to roll out 48 of the aircraft in 2012, doubling its existing capacity.
"They are putting together prefabricated parts from Hamburg. Although it is not manufacturing, the assembly process is a vital stage in aircraft construction," adds Behrens, who was the China head of Airbus when the assembly plant began operations.
He says Airbus was not concerned about China gaining insights into aircraft manufacturing and becoming a future competitor.
"This isn't an electric shaver. There are competitors coming up all the time from the United States, Japan and South Korea so why not China?" he asks.
The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China is set to complete trials on its narrow-bodied C919, which will compete with the A320 as well as the Boeing 737, by 2014. The aircraft should be available commercially by 2016.
About 2,000 could be built over the next two decades, giving China a 10 percent slice of this segment of the market.
Airbus still retains a dominant position in the China aviation market with some 470 aircraft already in operation with airlines in China.
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