BEIJING (AP) -- China's biggest commercial aircraft maker landed its first foreign order Tuesday when General Electric Co. announced its plane-leasing arm would purchase at least five of the company's new regional jets.
The order for the 70-seat ARJ21 jets made by Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China includes an option to purchase as many as 20 more, said GE spokesman Geoff Li.
The two companies declined to disclose the price, but the government's China News Service said the sale to GE Commercial Aviation Services will be worth nearly $800 million if all 25 planes are purchased.
The five jets are due to be delivered by 2013 and will be leased to Chinese carriers, Li said. But he said GE didn't rule out the possibility of also leasing them to international carriers.
"After all, it's a global market," he said.
Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, founded by the government in 2002, is trying to break into the global market for regional jets, competing with Canada's Bombardier Inc. and Brazil's Embraer. It says it plans to develop larger aircraft, including a 150-seat jetliner.
The sale was announced during the Zhuhai air show in southern China, a major showcase for aircraft sellers in one of world's fastest-growing aviation markets.
Speaking at the air show, CACC's president, Zhang Qingwei, said, "It's the first time that Chinese regional jets will enter the American market," according to CNS.
GE became an engine supplier for the ARJ21 in 2002.
Li said GE went ahead with the aircraft purchase despite the global financial crisis because of China's strong growth potential.
"We are confident in the development of China's aviation industry," he said.
The aircraft is set to make its flight debut this month in Shanghai, where the company is based.
GE says it estimates China will need about 900 mid-sized regional jets over the next two decades as economic growth drives an expansion of air travel.
The Chinese government launched an effort this year to produce a full-size jumbo jet, competing in the market dominated by U.S.-based Boeing Co. and Europe's Airbus Industrie.
The country hopes to sell its first jumbo jet by 2020, the official Xinhua News Agency cited a deputy industry minister, Miao Wei, as saying Tuesday at the Zhuhai show.
Associated Press researcher Bonnie Cao contributed to this report.