ARJ21 orderbook climbs to 41 as Xiamen signs up

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Commitments come as Chinese manufacturer pushes back entry into service to 2008

The orderbook for the ARJ21-700 regional jet has been boosted beyond 40 aircraft, as China's Xiamen Airlines becomes the fourth carrier to commit to the locally built twinjet. Meanwhile, first deliveries have slipped from 2007 to 2008.

Programme company AVIC I Commercial Aircraft (ACAC) says Xiamen Airlines has signed an agreement to acquire six of the large regional jets, lifting to 41 the number of firm orders secured to date.

"The delivery dates are still under discussion," says ACAC, which is a subsidiary of China Aviation Industry I (AVIC I).

The aircraft, which will be powered by General Electric CF34-10A engines, last year attracted launch orders from Shandong Airlines, for 10 aircraft; Shanghai Airlines, for five; and Shenzhen Financial Leasing, for 20.

Shandong is to be the first operator, although ACAC says first delivery is not expected until 2008. First deliveries were originally planned for early 2007, but last year this was pushed back to late in 2007.

The ARJ21, which is expected to fly for the first time in 2006, is being developed as a family of large regional jet aircraft optimised for "hot and high" operations in China's western region.

The baseline -700 variant is to seat 78 passengers in a typical two-class configuration and 85 passengers in an all-economy configuration. A stretched variant is also planned that will seat around 100 passengers.

Manufacturing work officially began late last year when the first metal was cut at four AVIC I plants, at Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang and Xian. The final assembly line is to be in Shanghai.

Xiamen Airlines, based in the south east of China and 60%-owned by China Southern Airlines, has an all-Boeing fleet of 27 737-300/500/700s and 757-200s. It has another five 737-700s and two 757-200s on order.

NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE