China aims to take one-third of the global market for turboprop airliners with the MA-700, a cutting-edge aircraft currently under development, according to the aircraft's chief designer.
"The MA-700 will make its maiden flight in the first half of 2017 and is set to be delivered to buyers in 2019. At least 50 planes will be made each year," Dong Jianhong, a senior designer at Aviation Industry Corp of China, told China Daily in an exclusive interview. "I am convinced that after the aircraft enters service, it will help us obtain at least 30 per cent of the international turboprop airliner market within about 10 years."
He said that compared with its predecessors, the MA-60 family, the MA-700 is a new design with lower operational and maintenance costs and more eco-friendly technologies.
"At present, we are focusing on gaining Chinese authorities' airworthiness certification, and once the MA-700 is certified in China, we will, and must, strive to have it certified by the United States Federal Aviation Administration, otherwise the plane will not be able to enter Western markets," he said, adding the aircraft's safety standard is the strictest of its kind in the global civil aviation sector.
The prime target markets for the turboprop are regional airlines in Asia, Africa and South America, where many countries are traditional users of Chinese aircraft, according to Dong.
"To achieve our goal, we will confront the ATR 72 and Bombardier Q400 in developing countries' markets," he said. "The ATR 72 now occupies half of the market while the Bombardier Q400 has 40 per cent and our MA-60 owns only about 10 per cent."
Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft manufacturer, began developing the MA-700 in December 2013 to replace the MA-60 and its variants, which were developed in the 1990s.
Dong said the plane will be able to carry up to 86 passengers and fly at up to 637 km/h.
Moreover, the aircraft will use the most advanced fly-by-wire flight control system, its first use on a turboprop aircraft.
"With all these advantages, the MA-700 can save as much as 30 per cent on fuel costs compared with jetliners flying short-haul routes. This will give airlines higher profit margins," Dong said.
Pang Zhen, head of AVIC's civil aircraft development, said the rising cost of aviation fuel has put airlines under heavy pressure and made turboprop aircraft more attractive
"The MA-700 will be a sensible choice for them to perform short-haul flights at a reasonable cost," Pang said.