SHANGHAI, China – China’s top leaders have approved a program to build large commercial aircraft, lending crucial government support to plans to challenge the domination of Boeing and Airbus in the country’s fast-growing aviation market.
A Cabinet meeting held last month approved “in principle” setting up a formal program for domestic manufacture of large commercial aircraft, according to a statement seen Monday on the Web site of the State Council Information Office.
It said the decision followed a report by a group set up six months earlier to research the feasibility of the project.
No timeframe was given, but last week a top official of state-owned China Aviation Industry Corp. I, or AVIC I, said that the company planned to start making large aircraft with seating for 200 or more by 2020.
China has set a target of completing designs for a large aircraft by 2010 and has proposed producing its own aircraft engines.
China plans test flights of its first commercial jet aircraft, the mid-sized ARJ-21 regional jet, by next year. It also is seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval of the jet with a mind toward selling the ARJ-21 in overseas markets.
With China expected to buy 2,230 new planes between now and 2025, the government has fast-tracked development plans to ensure that its own companies grab a share.
China abandoned a project to build large aircraft in the 1970s, although local manufacturers already make many components for Boeing Co. and Airbus SA. Airbus recently agreed to open a final assembly line for its mid-size A320 aircraft in the northern city of Tianjin.
Boeing officials said Monday they welcomed the potential competition from China.
Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing’s commercial jet-building division, also said China likely would produce a plane similar to Boeing’s 737, a single-aisle, twin-engine jet with short-to-medium range.
“That would be the next logical step based on what they’re doing today,” Carson said in a conference call with analysts and reporters.