Plane makers eye booming China at Asia air show

HONG KONG (AP) — China’s booming aviation market is firmly on the radar of the aerospace industry as a major Asian air show get sets to lift off Tuesday.

More than 270 companies from 32 countries are setting up booths at the Asian Aerospace Expo and Congress 2011 in Hong Kong, but event organizers say the biggest display will be the one belonging to Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd.

The state-owned plane maker, known as Comac, has not been shy about its intentions to break into a global aviation market long dominated by Boeing and Airbus with its single- aisle C919 passenger jet, which is still in the design stage.

HNA Group, which operates Hainan Airlines, China’s fourth-biggest airline, will also be making news at the show. The company plans to sign an aircraft purchase agreement with leading aircraft makers, which it didn’t name, at a ceremony on Tuesday.

Airbus, Boeing and other international aircraft manufacturers will also be eyeing potential deals in China.

Asian demand is proving to be the savior for the global air transport market, which is seeing slower growth in other regions.

In a long-term global forecast for airplane demand released ahead of the show on Monday, Airbus executives said they expect Asia’s rapidly growing middle classes to drive demand for new airplanes over the next 20 years and help the region overtake North America and Europe as the world’s biggest air transport market.

Canada’s Bombardier, Brazil’s Embraer, and other makers of smaller jets will also be on hand, underscoring their desire to cash in on opportunities for sales of corporate and private jets.

Private aviation in China is a small and still tightly restricted market but growing demand from wealthy people and business travelers is paving the way for growth.

“The Chinese market is for us the fastest growing market,” said Francois Chazelle, Airbus’s vice president of executive and private aviation.

China accounted for about 25 percent of Airbus corporate jet deliveries last year, compared with 50 percent for the Middle East, although Chazelle said he expected China to catch up.

The European plane maker sells corporate versions of its smaller commercial passenger jets ranging in price from $65 million to $80 million. Chazelle said he expects to sell about five such jets a year in China.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an air show without displays of gleaming hardware and 21 jets will be on show, ranging from a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350i nine-passenger turboprop to a Boeing Business Jet.

The three-day show is being held at an exhibition center near Hong Kong’s airport. Unlike other big aviation fairs around the world, it won’t feature flying demonstrations or military hardware and is not open to the public.

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