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Air China pledges support for domestic planemaker
Published on: 2010-02-03
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Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- China Southern Airlines Co. and Air China Ltd., two of the nation’s big three carriers, said they will back a domestic planemaker challenging Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS in the world’s fastest-growing aviation market.

“We are a state-owned company, of course, we support the C919,” China’s first narrow-body plane, China Southern’s Executive Vice President Dong Suguang said today in a Bloomberg TV interview at the Singapore Air Show. “If the government needs us to buy, we will.”

China Southern and Air China, the operators of at least 550 Boeing and Airbus aircraft, may add Chinese planes as the nation tries to develop a globally competitive aerospace industry. Economic growth in the world’s most populous nation means the country will likely account for about a third of Asia-Pacific aircraft orders over the next 20 years, according to Airbus.

“Air China absolutely will support Chinese aircraft manufacturers,” Senior Vice President He Li said in an interview yesterday. The carrier hasn’t made any decision on how many aircraft it may buy.

Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, the maker of the nation’s first narrow-body passenger plane, expects total sales of its 168-seat C919 to surpass 2,000 in that timeframe, Yuan Wenfeng, deputy general manager, program management department, said yesterday. The company aims to win around 100 orders by year-end, predominately within the local market, Yuan said.

Airbus, Boeing

Comac may make as many as 150 planes a year, once full production is reached, Chaker Chahrour, executive vice president of CFM International, the sole engine supplier for the aircraft, said in an interview today.

“If this plane is a success, they have the capacity to produce the same volume as Airbus or Boeing,” he said. CFM, a General Electric Co.-Safran SA venture, will likely open a final assembly plant in China to support the C919, he said.

Air China, the world’s largest carrier by market value, plans to retire about 10 planes this year and introduce 30 new ones, He said. Most of the aircraft leaving the fleet are more than 15 years old, He said, without elaboration.

“The variety of aircraft at Air China is quite high,” He said. “Our strategy is to phase out some models.”

Domestic air travel in China will likely grow more than 10 percent this year because of the nation’s economic growth, He said. International traffic and cargo volume will likely grow at a slower pace on the continuing effects of the global slowdown, he said.

“China’s economy is recovering, but the global economic recovery still has some risks,” He said. “The global financial crisis is not completely over yet.”

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