PARIS AIR SHOW: Taiwan's AIDC invited to participate in Chinese aircraft programme

Singapore
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Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation has been invited to become a supplier for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China's (Comac) new passenger aircraft programme.

AIDC could manufacture flaps, slats, leading edge flaps, rudder elevators and belly fairings for the Comac 919 narrowbody if it gets the contract, says company president, George Shiah.

"We received a request for information from Comac and responded. It is a great business opportunity for the company," said Shiah in an exclusive interview in Paris. "We would like to win this contract as it would help us to participate in a major aircraft programme. However, we must reiterate that this is purely a business issue and not a political issue. We cannot read too much into it."

Nonetheless, if the deal goes ahead, the fact that a Taiwanese company will participate in a major Chinese aircraft programme will inevitably be seen as a significant step forward in bilateral ties. China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province since its ruling communists won a civil war in the mainland in 1949 and there were no air links between the two until last year.

That changed after Ma Ying Jeou became Taiwan's president in May 2008, and regular direct charter flights began last July. In April this year, Taiwan and China agreed to allow scheduled services and for more cargo and passenger flights.

A contract would be a significant boost to AIDC, which has struggled to make an impact in the global aerospace industry. It began to take steps to rectify that by investing $70 million in a composites factory earlier this year, and started talks with Western companies about becoming a supplier for aircraft programmes.

The company received a major shot in the arm in January after Mitsubishi Aircraft gave it the contract to design and manufacture the slats, flaps, belly fairings, rudders and horizontal stabiliser rotating blades for its forthcoming Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet.

China, which already produces the MA-6000 turboprop and ARJ-21 regional jet, decided in 2007 to develop a large commercial aircraft for entry into service in 2020.

Comac, which was set up to lead the programme, is considering powerplants from Shanghai-based AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine, GE Engines and Pratt & Whitney.

It plans to have the first flight in late 2014 and has brought the delivery date forward to 2016, with Chinese industry sources saying that this was to get the Comac 919 into the market before Airbus and Boeing develop a successor to their narrowbodies.