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Vivian Wai-yin Kwok,

 

HONG KONG –

China moved one step closer to become an aviation power after General Electric inked an agreement on Tuesday to buy five Chinese-designed jets from the government-backed Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China.

At the 7th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, in China’s southern special economic zone of Zhuhai, GE Commercial Aviation Services, an aircraft leasing arm of General Electric, committed to purchase five Chinese-designed jets, with an option for 20 more, in China’s biggest civil aircraft export agreement to date. GE has become the first overseas company to buy Chinese-made commercial planes. The deal is valued at 5 billion yuan ($731.4 million), and the first jet will be delivered in 2013, state news agency Xinhua news reported Tuesday.

“The ARJ21 will help fulfill the growing need within China for fast, efficient regional air travel,” said Norman Liu, executive vice president of GE Commercial Aviation Services. GE Commercial signed a preliminary agreement with the Chinese company in March.

The ARJ21, which stands for Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century, was first unveiled in December last year. The airliner is designed to carry 78 to 90 passengers on flights of 1,200 to 2,000 nautical miles and can fly more than 98% of the country’s domestic routes. (See: “China Rolling Out First Homegrown Airliner.”)

With ambitions to break into the commercial large jet aviation market, which for years has been a duopoly between Boeing and Airbus, a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., China invested 19 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) to set up Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China in May of this year for the research and development and manufacture of passenger jet aircraft. (See “China’s Jumbo-sized Ambition.”)

CACC already has more than 100 orders for the ARJ21 jet, which is scheduled for commercial deliveries as early as the third quarter of 2009, but most of the orders are from domestic carriers.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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