'Made In China' Airbus Jet Makes First Flight

SHANGHAI (AP) -- The first Airbus A320 jet assembled outside Europe made its maiden flight Monday after its assembly in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin.

The Airbus Final Assembly Line China, or FALC, in Tianjin plans to begin deliveries to customers in June, European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co. said in a statement.

The jet successfully conducted a four-hour flight from the Tianjin International Airport, it said.

The plant is expected to be able to produce four A320s a month by 2011 and a total of about 300 A320 planes by 2016.

"This A320 assembled in China unquestionably demonstrated the same quality and performance as those assembled and delivered in Hamburg or Toulouse," Fernando Alonso, senior vice president for Flight & Integration Tests at Airbus said.

The jet is to be delivered to Dragon Aviation Leasing in June for operation by Sichuan Airlines, a regional carrier based in central China's Sichuan province.

Airbus holds a 51 percent stake in FALC, a joint venture between Airbus and a consortium that includes China Aviation Industry Corp., the country's biggest aircraft maker, and the Tianjin Free Trade Zone.

The decision by Toulouse, France-based Airbus to make aircraft in China is seen as part of its long-term strategy to win a greater share of the Chinese market that for years was dominated by Boeing.

The project was built in anticipation of large Chinese orders for the popular single aisle jet that seats 150 or more passengers. Size-wise, the plane is well suited for Chinese domestic routes expected to show strong growth in the years ahead as the economy continues to expand.