The world's largest amphibious aircraft, the AG-600, will carry out its debut flight in the first half of the year and is due to begin delivery in 2021, its chief designer said.
Huang Lingcai of China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co, the seaplane's developer based in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, said on Wednesday that engineers are carrying out final tests on the AG-600 that will conduct the first flight.
Another AG-600 is also undergoing in-house tests in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, he said, adding that 46 out of 53 tests have been completed.
After the tests are completed, pilots will train aboard both aircraft and then practice taxiing before the flight, he said.
"After the maiden flight, we will continue to conduct tests and experiments and finish the certification procedures around 2020. The first deliveries are due in 2021," Huang said.
China Aviation Industry General Aircraft, a subsidiary of State-owned aircraft giant Aviation Industry Corp of China, launched the AG-600 project in September 2009, aiming to fill China's lack of amphibious planes.
The Chinese Navy once had a handful of SH-5 maritime patrol amphibious aircraft, but they reportedly have been decommissioned.
Seventeen orders for the new aircraft have been received from Chinese government departments and domestic enterprises, the company said.
An aviation source who did not want to be named said the first user will be the State Forestry Administration.
The company said that the first trial run was made on Monday of the four WJ-6 turboprop engines installed on the AG-600 that will make the first flight.
The seaplane will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons and a size roughly comparable to that of a Boeing 737.
It will be the world's largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan's ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia's Beriev Be-200, Huang said, adding that it will have an operational range of about 4,500 kilometers.
Qu Jingwen, general manager of China Aviation Industry General Aircraft, said the AG-600 will play an important role in forest fire control, maritime search and rescue, transportation of personnel and supplies to islands, and law enforcement tasks at sea.
Huang also said the seaplane can fly a round trip between Sanya, Hainan province, and the shoal of Zengmu Ansha, the southernmost point of China's territory, without refueling.
It is capable of carrying 50 people during a maritime search and rescue mission.
To extinguish a forest fire, it can collect 12 metric tons of water from a nearby lake or sea within 20 seconds, information from the company shows.
Wu Peixin, an aviation industry observer in Beijing, said seaplanes such as the AG-600 are suited to maritime search and rescue because they can land on islands and on the surface of the sea, which makes them flexible and gives them a longer operation time compared with ordinary aircraft.