CHINA AND South Korea are leaning towards co-operation with European manufacturers to develop a planned joint 100-seat regional passenger aircraft, following Boeing's decision to launch the 737-600.

The two countries are looking for a Western partner to provide key technology and marketing, in exchange for a 20% stake in the proposed project. Initial discussions on co-operation have been held with Aerospatiale, Boeing and Daimler-Benz, together with its subsidiary, Fokker.

Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and Boeing have been conducting a joint study into a new 100-seat aircraft. Both China and South Korea are understood to be "annoyed" by Boeing's recent launch of the 108-seat 737-600 (Flight International, 22-28 March).

Boeing has been conducting a separate 100-seat-aircraft study with Japan Aircraft Development, as part of its proposed YS-X project. Boeing's efforts at combining the two Asian projects into a single New Small Aircraft programme have so far met with a lukewarm response.

A South Korean consortium, led by Samsung Aerospace, has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Daimler-Benz to study aircraft in the 100- to 120-seat range, while AVIC has discussed co-operation with Aerospatiale. The selection of a western partner, is expected to be announced, in late September.

The Chinese Government, in the meantime, has proposed extending co-operation with South Korea to include the study of a larger 150-seat aircraft development. The proposal was made by Deng Nan Deputy Director of China's Science and Technology Commission during a meeting with Samsung Aerospace President Lee Dae-won.

A 150-seat aircraft is considered better suited for the Chinese market, but conflicts with the similarly sized McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30 TrunkLiner programme. Shanghai Aviation Industrial, is due to begin assembling the first of 20 MD-90s in 1997.

Industry observers view China's proposal as an attempt to break an impasse with South Korea on final assembly of the 100-seat aircraft. Both countries are insisting on their own production line, and talks to date between AVIC and Samsung have failed to resolve the issue.

A South Korean consortium source says: "China has civil-aircraft production lines in Shanghai and Xian, while South Korea has none. Our needs are more immediate. The Government wants a Korean final-assembly line as something to show for its efforts."

Source: Flight International