France's Safran to sign major deal to equip Chinese jet

BEIJING, Dec 21, 2009 (AFP) - French aerospace and defence industries group Safran on Monday will sign a five-billion-dollar contract to provide engines for China's first large passenger jet, chief executive Jean-Paul Herteman said.

The C919 -- built by state-linked Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and due to be ready for service in about 2016, according to state media -- is seen as a future competitor to the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.

"This is a significant contract -- the launch of a new aircraft only happens once every 10 or 15 years," Herteman told reporters.

The contract was due to be signed later Monday during an official visit to China by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

The C919 -- which would have a maximum of 190 seats -- will be equipped with Leap X engines, the latest developed by Safran in concert with its joint venture partner, US conglomerate General Electric.

The French group and the US giant, which operate as CFM International, have been partners since 1974, and count Airbus and Boeing among their clients.

The joint venture will also provide nacelles -- the covers housing the engines -- for the C919

Herteman said the value of the contract over 30 years could total 15 billion dollars. The deal would create 8,000-10,000 direct jobs in France, and three to four times that number for various subcontractors.

The partners are looking into the viability of establishing an assembly line facility in China, he said.

"The Chinese market will represent 20 percent of the global aviation market in the next 20 years," Herteman said.

COMAC was set up last year, tasked with developing a large aircraft that could compete with planes produced by industry leaders Airbus and Boeing, thus making China a player on the global stage.

Chinese media reports have estimated that the country's airlines will need a total of 1,600 new passenger jets by 2020 and 3,000 by 2050.

COMAC already markets the ARJ21, China's first 90-seat regional jet.

Source: AFP

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