Airbus Building A320 In China

Plant will produce a total of about 300 A320 planes by 2016; China expected to become the world's second-biggest aircraft market after the U.S.

BEIJING (AP) - Airbus and Chinese partners officially signed an agreement Thursday to open a final assembly line in China to produce the European aircraft manufacturer's A320 jets.

The plant in the eastern city of Tianjin is expected to deliver its first aircraft in early 2009, Airbus said.

The assembly line will be able to produce four A320s a month by 2011 and a total of about 300 A320 planes by 2016, the company said.

Plans for the assembly line were announced in October during a visit to Beijing by then-French President Jacques Chirac. At that time, Airbus had said the plant would use sub-assemblies imported from Europe.

Airbus is to own 51 percent of the joint venture, with the rest held by a Chinese consortium including China Aviation Industry Corp. I, China Aviation Industry Corp. II and the Tianjin Free Trade Zone.

Also Thursday, Airbus announced it signed a contract to sell 86 A320s to Chinese airlines including mid-size carriers Shenzhen Airlines and Hainan Airlines Co.

Nearly half of those aircraft are to be assembled in Tianjin, the company said.

The aircraft are among 150 A320s that China committed to buying in a preliminary agreement signed in October.

Demand for airplanes in China is expected to surge in coming years as the economy grows.

Airbus and its U.S. rival Boeing Co. say they expect China to become the world's second-biggest aircraft market after the United States, with airlines buying 1,900 to 2,600 planes over the next two decades.

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