After a 30-year on the drawing board, China will resume manufacturing jumbo aircraft in its new five-year plan in the hope of meeting the country's increasing demand for air travel.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said last Sunday in his report on the work of government that China will start manufacturing jumbo aircraft during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006- 2010). This is the first time the idea has been brought up since an early attempt was aborted in the 1980s.
The jumbo aircraft project will speed up technology advances in China's aviation industry and promote the development of related industrial sectors, said an insider who asked not to be named.
Jumbo aircraft generally refers to airliners with a capacity of more than 150 passengers and a range of up to 4,000 kilometers.
Building a jumbo aircraft is feasible, said Guan Zhidong, a professor with Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. While China already has the elementary technologies to build a jumbo aircraft, it will still require international cooperation, said Guan.
China started to build jumbo aircraft in 1970, just two years after Europe's Airbus went into production. China's first jumbo aircraft named "Yunshi" made its maiden flight successfully in 1980, but failed to gain a foothold in China.
"If the 'Yunshi' project had not been halted, China would be ranked as one of the countries with a first-class aviation industry. " said Hu Xitao, an official of China's former Aviation Ministry.
With air travel soaring by 95 percent in the past five years, China has the second largest civil aviation market after the U.S.
Boeing predicts that China will need more than 2,600 new airliners, mostly large aircraft, in the coming 20 years, which will be worth 213 billion U.S. dollars.
Insiders agree that China should first aim at meeting the demand of the domestic market with smaller aircraft and gradually achieve its goal of making jumbo aircraft with international cooperation.
At the end of 2005, the ARJ 21, China's regional jet, has been undergoing test flights and is expected to be put in service by 2008. So far 41 orders have been received for the ARJ 21.
The third "Xinzhou60," another middle-scale jet aircraft manufactured by China, was delivered to Zimbabwe last year. The Xinzhou 60 has received 20 orders from foreign countries.
China has worked actively with international aviation companies to manufacture aircraft parts, which have laid a technological basis for China's jumbo aircraft manufacturing.
It is estimated that about a quarter of Airbus airliner parts and a third of Boeing's parts are manufactured in China.
"I hope one day that China's pilots will fly the skies in jumbo aircraft manufactured by their own country," said Li Jiaxiang, president of the China National Aviation Holding Company, echoing a wish shared by many of his peers here.