CHINESE AND European aerospace-industry negotiators are expected to reach an agreement by the end of the month for Airbus Industrie to join the proposed Chinese AE-100 regional-jet programme.

Under a plan which is now in the process of being finalised, Airbus will assume a leading role in Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) subsidiary, Aero International Asia (AIA). Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) has already selected AIA as its major partner in the development of the AE-100.

AVIC and its junior partner, Singapore Technologies (ST), have been pressing AI(R) to widen European participation to include the Airbus consortium. The move would give Daimler-Benz Aerospace and CASA of Spain a role in the AE-100 project, in addition to those of Aerospatiale, Alenia and British Aerospace.

It would also enable the AE-100 to become part of the Airbus product range, strengthening worldwide marketing and after-sales support for the aircraft. Talks are focused on establishing system commonality with A320 family, such as that of cockpit avionics, which would extend Airbus cross-crew qualification to the AE-100.

At the same time, Airbus wants to avoid any market overlap between the new aircraft and its A320 series. The AE-100 programme is planned to include a stretched 135- to 140-seat version, which potentially could pose a threat to the smaller 124-seat A319.

AVIC claims that there would be major differences between the two aircraft. The AE-100 cabin will contain five-abreast seating, compared to the wider A320's six-abreast cabin cross-section. Its design will also be optimised to allow it to be operated on routes of 500-1,500km (270-800nm), instead of competing with the longer-range A320

A Chinese source emphasises that Airbus' role in AIA is intended to complement that of AI(R) and not replace it. AVIC is keen to emulate Avro's "lean-and-mean" type of approach to manufacturing, rather than the more cumbersome and costly production structure in operation at Airbus.

Agreement on Airbus' involvement will clear the way for China, Europe and Singapore to finalise the programme's shareholding arrangements. One official suggests that, with the addition of Deutsche Aerospace, AIA's stake could be increased from 40% to 45%, leaving AVIC with a nominally larger 46% share and ST with 9%.

The joint venture is expected to be formalised by the end of the year, with preliminary-design work starting in January 1997. Its immediate task will be to negotiate risk and revenue-sharing agreements with suppliers.

Manufacturers will be awarded work packages and given overall responsibility for selected areas, such as engine and nacelle, landing gear and fuel system.

See feature, P60

Source: Flight International