Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and Airbus Industrie Asia (AIA) have signed a framework agreement covering the joint development of the proposed AE31X family of regional jets, formerly known as the AE-100/A318.

The memorandum, signed in Beijing on 15 May by French president Jacques Chirac and Jian Zemin, president of China, calls for the development of 100- and 125-seat versions of the aircraft, to be called the AE316 and AE317. Final assembly will be carried out in China, with entry into service set for mid-2003.

Also party to the agreement were Singapore Technologies and Finmeccanica of Italy, parent of Alenia. The AE31X family will be developed by a new joint-venture company to be set up in China, 46%-owned by AVIC and 39%by AIA, with Singapore Technologies holding the remaining 15%. Alenia will hold a 38% stake in AIA, with Airbus Industrie taking the rest.

Juan De Uriarte, senior vice-president for marketing at AIA, says that pre-development work is due to begin in early 1998.

"By the end of the year, business agreements will be signed, "he predicts. Development costs are expected to be $1.7-2 billion for the two derivatives.

The launch of the AE316 and AE317 is planned for early 1999, and first flights would take place in 2002. Basic and high-gross-weight (HGW)versions of both types will be offered, says De Uriarte. The AE316 will seat 95 or 105 passengers, and the AE317 115 or 125, in two- or single-class layouts, respectively. Economy-class seating will be five-abreast.

Maximum range of the basic versions of both types will be 3,300km (1,800nm), while the HGW versions will be capable of 5,100km. AIA is also aiming to achieve a common pilot type-rating with the existing A320 family.

De Uriarte says that Airbus "-needs to fill a gap "below the A319. The new aircraft "-will fill that gap. There is a good market opportunity-it is an interesting combination of the two markets."

AIA is predicting a "core market" of around 3,000 aircraft over the next 20 years, of which it hopes to capture around 30%. It expects 43% of sales to be to North American customers, with 24% going to Europe, 7% to China and 10% to the rest of Asia.

AIA claims that the AE317, with 115 seats, will offer direct operating costs per seat of 19% and 10% less than those of the 108-seat Boeing 737-500 and next-generation -600, respectively. The AE31X family would also have significantly lower airframe weight, with the AE317HGWhaving a maximum take-off weight of 58.2t. "No-one else is reaching 2,000nm ranges with those weights," says De Uriarte.

Workshare will be allocated in accordance with the shareholdings, says De Uriarte. "Most of the manufacturing will be carried out in China-we intend to take advantage of low costs and high-quality engineering," he says.

The AE316 and AE317 will share commonality with the A320 family where possible, despite the fact that the new aircraft use a smaller fuselage cross-section.

De Uriarte rules out a common fuselage cross-section with the proposed Aero International (Regional) Air Jet family. The AE31X family will have fly-by-wire controls, however. Development will be led by Didier Puyplat, formerly chief engineer on the A319/A320/A321. The BMW Rolls-Royce BR715, CFM International CFM56-9 and Pratt & Whitney PW6000 are still in the running to power the aircraft.

Source: Flight International