updated 9/23/2005 11:52:30 AM ET 2005-09-23T15:52:30

China will begin trial production later this year of its homegrown ARJ-21, or Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century, state media reported Friday, describing the aircraft as a potential challenge to Boeing and Airbus’s dominance in the local market.

The jet, which China calls its first completely domestically designed short-haul passenger plane, has passed an “air worthiness appraisal” and is in the final design stages, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Huang Qiang, president of the first Airplane Designing Institute with China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC I).

Manufacturing of parts and components for the 78- to 105-seat aircraft began in late 2003. Trial assembly will begin by year’s end, with a maiden flight expected in late 2006, the report cited Huang as saying.

Huang did not say how many jets would be produced initially.

China has been keen to put its own stamp on a wide range of technologies. The ARJ-21 represents an attempt to gain a foothold in one of the world’s fastest growing markets, vying with Boeing, Airbus and Brazilian airplane maker Embraer.

Boeing Co. predicts China will need more than 2,600 new airplanes worth $213 billion over the next 20 years as the economy expands and air travel becomes widespread. Most of those aircraft are expected to be single-aisle or smaller regional jets to be used on domestic routes.

AVIC I Commercial Aircraft Co., based in the northern city of Xi’an, long ago announced it has 35 orders from local carriers for the regional jet. The cost and delivery dates for the jet has not been disclosed.

Company officials have said they expect to sell 300 of the planes within 20 years.

Despite its domestic origins, according to industry reports the ARJ-21 is similar to the Douglas DC-9 — reflecting an earlier tie-up between McDonnell Douglas Corp., which was later acquired by Boeing, and the state-owned China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp.

The aircraft uses components from 19 international suppliers and will be powered by GE Aircraft engines.

AVIC I was formed to make large and medium-size aircraft in an industry overhaul in 1999 that split state-owned China Aviation Industry Corp. into AVIC I and AVIC II, which focuses on smaller aircraft, helicopters and parts.

AVIC I employs more than 200,000 workers in 53 industrial enterprises that mainly make parts for Boeing jetliners and other non-Chinese aircraft.

The company also makes military aircraft and the Y-7, a smaller passenger plane based on the Antonov-24 transport that seats up to 60 and is used mainly on domestic routes.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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