MA700 work gets under way in Xi’an

 - January 30, 2009, 5:35 AM

China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industry Company (XAC) has started preliminary work on the Modern Ark 700 (MA700), a 70-seat turboprop regional aircraft that it expects to fly by 2013 or 2014.

The MA700 would be more energy-efficient than the Chinese turboprop now under development–the 60-seat MA600– and designed for high-altitude operations, said Geng Ruoguang, vice general manager of China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC), parent of XAC.

Ukrainian airframe maker Antonov, which signed a memorandum of understanding with XAC in September 2007, has agreed to help with the design and development work. Antonov deputy head of marketing Andrii Sovenko had earlier told AIN the agreement involves a risk-sharing partnership, but details have not been made public.

“We are now discussing how we can start joint cooperation on the MA700,” said Antonov deputy general designer Oleksandr Kiva at Airshow China in November. “We are studying different possibilities. One is using existing product and platform offerings and the other is all-new development,” he said. “No decision has been made yet on which way we will go, but we are in the process of evaluation,” he added.

XAC plans to pursue EASA and FAA certification for the MA700. Its subsidiary Xi’an Aircraft International had planned to finance the project through a share offering on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The global financial crisis and sliding share prices in China might have cast the financing plan into doubt now, however. Kiva also said AVIC wants to build a 30- to 35-seat multipurpose aircraft for Chinese government agencies and commercial airlines.

“Antonov wants to be involved not just in the development of these aircraft but also in the production process,” he said.  Antonov also helped design the 50-seat MA60 and the wing of the ARJ21 regional jet, which made its maiden flight in November last year.

Although first presented as a 70-seater in 2007, the MA700 model shown at 2008’s Airshow China revealed 80 seats in a four-abreast configuration.
Featuring a straight tapered wing mounted high on the fuselage, the MA700 model showed two tractor-mounted Pratt & Whitney Canada engines and six-blade, slightly swept propellers. The empennage had a T-tail configuration and the model showed 28 windows on each side of the passenger cabin.

Lin Zuomin, who heads AVIC’s MA700 preparation team, said China would strive for a market share comparable to that controlled by Canada’s Bombardier with its 70-seat Q400 and France’s ATR with its 66- seat ATR 72-500.

China expects it will need more than 5,000 regional aircraft over the next
20 years, including 1,900 turboprops. Regional aircraft now account for about 12 percent of China’s commercial fleet, forcing large jets to fly shorter routes.