China aims at bigger world market slice with new turboprop aircraft

July 7th, 2008 - 9:10 am ICT by IANS  

By Wu Qi
Beijing, July 7 (Xinhua) China has made substantial progress in its ambition of gaining a larger share of the world’s short and medium haul turboprop aircraft market after it presented a fuel-efficient aircraft last month. China’s latest turboprop passenger aircraft, the Xinzhou 600, or Modern Ark 600 (MA600), rolled off the assembly line of China Aviation Industry Corp. 1 (AVIC1) in the northwestern city of Xi’an June 29.

Comparable to Canadian firm Bombardier’s Q400 and the French ATR aircraft, the 60-seat MA600 is an improved version of the 50-60 seat MA60 that is in service mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Turboprop aircraft are designed for short-haul or mid-range commuter flights lasting two to four hours. They usually carry between four and 70 passengers depending on the plane’s size.

China’s aviation market has developed fast, but its fleet structure is lopsided, with short-haul and mid-range aircraft accounting for 12 percent of the total and long-range planes often used for regional flights.

To date, about 75 percent of China’s air routes carry fewer than 160 passengers per day, making it proper to boost short-distance regional air transport among small and medium-sized cities.

“Most of China’s regional air routes are about 600 km, or a one-hour flight. They are ideal territory for regional aircraft like MA60 and MA600,” said Chen Fusheng, deputy director general of AVIC1’s commercial aircraft department.

AVIC1 started to develop MA600 in the second half of 2005, said He Shengqiang, chief engineer and vice-president of Xi’an Aircraft Industry Company Ltd., under AVIC1.

The MA600 is set to begin trial flights in September, said He Shengqiang. It will be delivered next year to its first customer - the China Civil Aviation Flight University in Sichuan province.

The MA600 production is planned to reach an annual capacity of 10-15 planes by 2010-2012, and an annual capacity of 30 planes after that, said Chen Fusheng.
He Shengqiang predicted that the world market could provide demand for more than 300 and the domestic market between 120-150 MA600 planes in the next 10 years.

“To assure a bigger slice of the turboprop market, the MA600 is designed to meet demand for the next 10 years,” said Chen Fusheng.

“Compared with turbo-fan aircraft from Bombardier’s CRJ and Brazilian ERJ, MA600 turbo-prop regional aircraft consumes one-third to two-fifths less fuel,” said Lu Hai, chief architect of MA600.

The fuel-efficient quality is attributed to a major improvement in structural design, making MA600 about 300 km lighter than its predecessor MA60.

Fuel consumption amounts to about 30 percent of the direct operational costs of regional flights. Turboprops, with an obvious fuel-saving capacity, have huge potential in the era of soaring oil prices, Chen said.

An MA60/MA600 aircraft sells at 14 to 15 million US dollars, competitive to same type of aircraft from Europe and the United States that costs 18 to 20 million US dollars. And the operating costs of MA60 and MA600 are 10 percent to 20 percent lower than foreign counterparts, making it possible to lower ticket prices.

In addition to the structure improvement, engineers have optimised the MA600’s aviation electronics system, upgraded its interior and added maritime survival functions for island countries, said President of Xi’an Aircraft Industry Company Ltd. Meng Xiangkai.

The MA600 may also be restructured into passenger-cargo planes, VIP business planes, medical rescue planes and special cargo planes.

The MA600, like the MA60, can take off and land on meadow and gravel runways, ideal for developing countries and economically less developed countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and some Central Asian countries, said Lu Hai, the chief designer of MA600.

Powered by Canada’s Pratt and Whitney PW-127J turboprop engines, the MA60 is China’s first homegrown regional plane designed and produced in line with leading international standards.

The plane, with a maximum speed of 514 km an hour and a flight range of 2,450 km or a flight time up to four hours, was first tested in 1993 and granted the type certificate in June 2000 with commuter services as its primary roles.

AVIC1 has drawn up an ambitious blueprint for its MA series.

On the basis of MA60 and MA600, AVIC1 has already begun developing the more advanced 70-seat MA700 as it seeks to break into more demanding markets in Europe and America, said senior AVIC1 official Chen Fusheng.

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