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'Marketplace' Report: China's Aviation Program

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'Marketplace' Report: China's Aviation Program


'Marketplace' Report: China's Aviation Program

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From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

Okay, we know China makes a lot of the products we use in our daily lives and that Santa actually lives in Beijing, not the North Pole. Well, maybe he'll say bye to the sleigh and hello to the brand new completely Chinese-made airplane that made its debut today.

MARKETPLACE's Janet Babin is here to tell us about it. And Janet, tell us about it.

JANET BABIN: Well, Madeleine, it's a regional jet on the smaller side, holds between 70 and 90 people and has a flying range of about 2,300 miles. It's called the ARJ21. So Santa would be in the advanced regional jetliner for the 21st century. And the Chinese have a nickname for it. It's called the Flying Phoenix. An analyst I spoke to told me this plane is really similar to a DC-9. If you've flown Northwest or AirTran regional jets, this is what this plane is like.

BRAND: Is the Flying Phoenix the first plane the Chinese have entirely designed and manufactured themselves?

BABIN: No. They've rolled out planes before, but mostly they were actually reverse engineered from other jets like the Boeing 707. This is really their first airliner that's got some real economic teeth to it. It's the first product that's got a chance to be competitive on a global scale.

BRAND: All right. Now, we're all a little bit suspicious of Chinese products in the wake of the lead-tainted toys scandal, so should we be a little wary about this airplane?

BABIN: Who wouldn't be a little shy about boarding this plane, right? I asked Mike Boyd about this. He runs the Boyd Group. It's an aviation consulting firm based in Colorado.

Mr. MIKE BOYD (President, Boyd Group): Well, let's remember this. The third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world today - airliner manufacturer - is in Brazil. And 30 years ago we would have joked about them. So don't underestimate the Chinese.

BABIN: Also, Boyd says a lot of the parts on this jet actually come from U.S. manufacturers, so you know, we should trust it.

BRAND: So I guess we'll be flying on these airplane soon?

BABIN: Probably eventually. These jets will first (unintelligible) in China. The country is, of course, becoming more prosperous and expects to need about 900 of these jets over the next 20 years or so. And the manufacturer's already got orders for 170 of them. Of course they're all China-based orders. Boyd says for now he doesn't see the airliners selling outside of China, but in 10 years very good chance that we will be flying in these. So...

BRAND: What kind of competition does China face with this market?

BABIN: Yeah, if it does want to compete, it's going to have to face three major companies - Boeing, Airbus and Embraer Brazil. And on the regional front, they'll have to face competition from Bombardier in Canada. And Boyd says the Chinese really have a shot of overtaking Bombardier eventually.

BRAND: And the Flying Phoenix, when does it take off? When is its maiden voyage?

BABIN: Yeah, Madeleine, we still have time to grab us some seats. The maiden flight is scheduled for March.

BRAND: Thank you, Janet.

That's Janet Babin of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE, produced by American Public Media.

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