Chinese aerospace company Harbin Aviation Industries is to purchase up to 50 Starliner 100s for re-sale to local airlines as part of its deal with struggling Alliance Aircraft, which is designing and building the family of regional jets.

The tie-up between AVIC II's Harbin and the US company is expected to result in the Chinese taking a shareholding in Alliance and providing much of the capital for the development programme.

The deal is planned to see Harbin assemble the 35-seat version of the Starliner 100 and produce various structural items. It will also undertake marketing of the 35-, 44- and 50-seat versions of Starliner in China. Alliance plans to assemble the two larger aircraft in Martinsburg,West Virginia.

Earl Robinson, the founder and chief executive of the previously cash-strapped Alliance, claims no new capital will have to be raised to get the programme underway.

Harbin, which is best known as a helicopter manufacturer and producer of the fixed-wing Y-12, hopes to achieve first flight of the 35- seater in late 2003. Delivery of aircraft will start a year later.

The design and production on the 44- and 50-seaters will run in the US almost concurrently.

Alliance also used the show to wheel out tentative industrial partners in the programme. These include Lockheed Martin Argentina who will build the forward fuselage, Honeywell the auxiliary power unit, ShinMaywa the engine pylons and Neuvant the fuselage barrels. Most companies have signed memoranda of agreement.

Harbin's emergence in the regional jet field comes against a background of interest in creating a regional airline network in China. Beijing has vowed to put cash into development of a locally built regional jet and AVIC I continues talks to set up an assembly line.

Source: Flight International