China selling MA60s to Myanmar and Sri Lanka

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China is selling MA60 turboprop transport aircraft to Myanmar and Sri Lanka, two political allies of China.

China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC), which is responsible for exporting China's military aircraft and related products, has placed an order for nine Xian Aircraft MA60s, says an official at Xian Aircraft, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Sri Lanka will be buying six of the MA60s from CATIC and the remaining three are going to Myanmar, says the official, adding that the countries are buying the aircraft with the help of a "Chinese government preferred loan scheme". China's government often makes soft loans to countries that are its political allies.

Myanmar will receive its three MA60s in September and Sri Lanka will receive two MA60s this year with the remaining four to be delivered next year, says the Xian Aircraft official, adding that both countries want the aircraft in a 56-seat configuration.

An official in Sri Lanka's ministry of ports and aviation says the country is in negotiations to buy six MA60s "because the air force wants these aircraft".

He says two may end up at state-owned carrier Mihin Lanka, while the remaining four will be for the air force.

Mihin Lanka head of commercial, Rohana Perera, told ATI last October that Sri Lanka's government was looking to buy MA60s and that two might be placed with Mihin Lanka to boost domestic air services.

The official at the ministry of ports and aviation confirms that the country plans to upgrade 13 airstrips so that regional aircraft can operate there and provide commercial passenger operations.

News reports in Sri Lanka say the airstrips to be upgraded are: Polonnaruwa, Hingurakgoda, Palali, Ratmalana, Koggala, Katukurunda, Weetavila, Trincomalee, Sigiriya, Batticaloa, Ampara, Kankesanthurai and Vavuniya.

There is a possibility that the Sri Lankan Air Force's MA60s could be used for commercial purposes. The air force has a commercial airline called Helitours that operates Bell helicopters and two Chinese-built Harbin Y-12 turboprops.

Besides Y-12s, the air force's other transport aircraft are Antonov An-32s and Lockheed Martin C-130s. The An-32 and the MA60 are both a derivative of the Antonov An-26.

Sri Lanka's move to upgrade air strips and promote domestic air services is part of the government's broader effort to rebuild the country now that the civil war is over following last year's defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.