Chinese airframer Comac plans to become the largest shareholder in Sichuan-based carrier United Eagle Airlines, which in turn plans to sign for 30 Comac ARJ21 regional jets.

Sichuan Airlines Group currently owns 76% of United Eagle but a source there says that Comac plans to buy a 48% stake which will leave Sichuan Airlines Group with 40.97% .

The source says a local company in Chengdu plans to buy the remaining 11.03%. Reports in China say the local company is Sichuan Communication Investment Group.

While Comac is planning to become the largest shareholder, the Sichuan Airlines source says United Eagle plans to place an order for 30 ARJ21-700s with the first to be delivered late next year.

 © Sipa Press/Rex Features

China's Kunpeng Airlines is suppose to be launch operator for the new aircraft which is currently undergoing flight and certification trials, and is due to receive its first aircraft in late 2010.

United Eagle is a relatively small carrier based in Chengdu that operates Airbus A320s. It launched operations in 2005 and was China's first privately owned carrier but then it experienced financial problems and Sichuan Airlines Group took it over in March of this year.

Sichuan Airlines Group tried to integrate it with Sichuan Airlines in an effort to make the business profitable.

Comac's move to buy in, means it has a ready airline customer for its Chinese-made aircraft. The airframer was unavailable for comment about the deal.

This also follows a similar move by Chinese aircraft maker Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which earlier this year established Xingfu Airlines in Xian. This carrier operates AVIC's Xian Aircraft MA60 turboprops.

Source: Flight International