Xian Aircraft (XAC) has won a 60-aircraft order for its MA60 twin turboprop from China's first aircraft leasing company. The AVIC I subsidiary is also proceeding with plans for further upgrades to the type.

The purchase agreement was signed with Shenzhen Financial Leasing on 7 November at the air show. The leasing company says the first of five 56-60-seat aircraft is already in service with Sichuan Airlines.

Sichuan is to take delivery of its second aircraft at the end of this month, says XAC, with all 60 aircraft in the Shenzhen Financial order set to be delivered within five years. Industry sources say that a further lease contract, for three aircraft, is expected to be signed with China Northern Airlines.

XAC is thought to have picked up 14 orders for the aircraft prior to the latest deal, including a five-aircraft order from Wuhan Airlines.

Shenzhen Financial was established earlier this year as China's first professional aircraft leasing company. Shareholders include China Evergreen Bank, China Merchants Bank and Shenzhen Rural Credit Co-operative.

XAC adds it has won 150 million yuan ($18 million) of government funding for a further upgrade to the aircraft - itself an upgraded version of the XAC Y7-200A turboprop, derived from the Antonov An-24. The "MA60 modification project" is expected to see entry into service of the first aircraft in 2002.

The modification is intended to extend the airframe life from 25,000 cycles to 30,000-40,000 cycles. It will also reduce the aircraft's 13,700kg (30,200lb) empty weight by 400kg, include wing modifications and increase the 1,600km (860nm) range by about 300km, says XAC. The changes are also expected to increase maximum take-off weight in hot and high conditions by about 900kg, says XAC.

The manufacturer says the programme will also include cockpit upgrades, introducing a full glass cockpit. Honeywell says it is offering XAC two cockpit display options: a high-end, full liquid crystal display suite, or a cheaper suite based on the Bendix King EFIS 40 electronic flight instrument system and Honeywell multi-function displays.

XAC says that "most" of the 60 aircraft ordered by Shenzhen Financial will be the improved variants.

• Xian Aircraft has displayed a model of a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) version of the MA-60 called the MA-MPA or "Fearless Albatross". The MA-MPA features raked wingtips intended to increase its range, which for the MA-60 is said to be 2,440 km. It is intended to be armed with anti-ship and anti-air missiles.

Source: Flight International