Xian Aircraft plans to produce a 70-seat regional turboprop aircraft called the MA700 that from the exterior looks very different to its 50- to 60-seat MA60, but looks like the ATR 72-500.

A source at ATR says the French-Italian aircraft-maker plans to complain because of similarities in the fuselages - the dimensions of the MA700 are also similar to the ATR 72-500. ATR acknowledges there is an issue but has declined to comment.

A model of the MA700 was on display at the Zhuhai Airshow. A Xian official admitted to Flight International that the MA700 is similar to the ATR 72.

The official says the MA700's landing gear is within the main fuselage, whereas the MA60's landing gear emerges from the engines mounted underneath the wing.

The MA700's nose and empennage look different to the MA60, but similar to that of the ATR 72-500. The Xian official says that because the MA700 is a larger aircraft than the MA60 it has a horizontal stabiliser on the tail. The ATR 72-500, too, has a horizontal stabiliser on the tail.

The MA700 will have more composite materials than the MA60, improved engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada and Hamilton Sundstrand's six-blade propeller, says the official.

ATR has never regarded Xian as a strong competitor, although the Chinese manufacturer has become proactive in marketing itself internationally and it has broken into some markets where ATR is present - last year, for example, it sold MA60s to Indonesia's national carrier Merpati Nusantara and this year it sold MA60s to privately owned Philippine carrier Zest Airways.

ATR currently gets Xian Aircraft to produce some ATR parts and the European manufacturer has for over a year been looking at establishing an ATR assembly line in China with the help of Anhui's provincial government. If this happens it will be the first ATR assembly line outside Toulouse.

Source: Flight International