The first Airbus A320 aircraft to be assembled in China enters into service with Sichuan Airlines today after being delivered to owner Dragon Aviation Leasing on Tuesday.

"Sichuan Airlines was the first Chinese airline to introduce the A320 family aircraft in China in 1995. Today, we are proud to become the operator of the first A320 assembled in China. We believe that the Airbus aircraft further enhances our profitability and competitiveness with low operational costs and high reliability," Lan Xinguo, president of Sichuan Airlines, said at the handover ceremony in Tianjin.

The airline, which has 40 Airbus narrowbodies in its fleet, will operate the aircraft in a two-class configuration with eight first class seats and 156 economy seats. It will deploy the aircraft on domestic trunk routes between its base in Chengdu to major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Today's first flight is scheduled from Chengdu to Beijing.

The plant at Tianjin that is the first A320 assembly plant outside Toulouse, France. It is a joint-venture between Airbus, the Tianjin Free Trade Zone and state-owned China Aviation Industry (AVIC). It will deliver the second aircraft in July and Airbus expects to produce 10 A320s by end-2009. The production rate is expected to be ramped up to four a month before end-2011.

China accounts for 15% of total Airbus sales and observers say that the assembly plant is a sign of the company's confidence in the country's airline industry.

Tom Enders, Airbus president and chief executive, said that the final assembly line in Tianjin and the aircraft delivery marked an important milestone in the company's long-term partnership with China and the Chinese industry.

"This final assembly line is state of the art, second to none in the world. And so are the aircraft manufactured here in Tianjin," he said.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news