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Airbus in China

Aircraft operations, a final assembly line and a future completion centre

Airbus’ A320 Final Assembly Line in Tianjin, China was the first facility of its kind outside of Europe
Airbus’ A320 Final Assembly Line in Tianjin, China was the first facility of its kind outside of Europe

According to Airbus’ market forecast, China is poised to become the world’s leading country for passenger air traffic, and it already is a major geographical region for the company.

Airbus has seen tremendous growth in the nation, with over 1,150 of the company’s aircraft in operation with Chinese airlines as of mid-2015, which represents a 50 percent market share. This underscores the company’s progress in China, where the in-service Airbus fleet has expanded by 50 times in less than two decades. 

The country also is home to a growing number of Airbus manufacturing and support operations – including its first assembly line outside of Europe. The A320 final assembly line in Tianjin began operations during September 2008 as a joint venture between Airbus and a Chinese consortium of Tianjin Free Trade Zone (TJFTZ) and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC). 

In March 2014, Airbus and its Chinese partners announced the extension of this successful joint venture for an additional 10 years covering the 2016-2025 timeframe. During this second phase, the facility’s capabilities will be further increased with expanded deliveries in the Asian region, assembly of the A320neo (new engine option) from 2017 onwards, and invitation of major suppliers to develop projects in Tianjin.

This facility’s first completed jetliner made its maiden flight in May 2009, and was delivered the following month to Dragon Aviation Leasing for operation by Chengu-based carrier Sichuan Airlines – marking the first customer handover of an Airbus jetliner produced outside of Europe.

Airbus delivered the 200th A320 Family jetliner from its Tianjin facility in late 2014 with a Sharklet-equipped A319, which was provided to China Eastern Airlines. This same carrier also had received the initial Sharklet-equipped A320 aircraft from Tianjin in May 2013. 

A successful cooperation continues

Airbus, TJFTZ and AVIC are expanding their successful cooperation with an agreement to set up an A330 completion and delivery centre in Tianjin – taking into account the need to support Chinese air traffic’s rapid growth with larger aircraft. 

Signed in 2015, the agreement establishes the framework for a new facility in China that will cover such activities as aircraft reception, cabin installation, painting, engine runs and flight testing, as well as aircraft delivery and customer acceptance. 

Structural assembly for these A330 jetliners will occur at Airbus’ final assembly line in Toulouse, France, before the aircraft are flown to China for completion at the Tianjin facility, which is to be located near the existing A320 Family final assembly line at the site. 

Airbus China and other subsidiaries

Airbus expanded into China in 1985 with its first delivery of an A310 to China Eastern Airlines. In 1994, Airbus China Company Limited was officially established and Airbus China Beijing Representative Office began operation.  More than 1,200 people work for Airbus and its joint-ventures in China. 

In Beijing, the Airbus customer support centre stocks some 25,000 spare parts for dispatch to airlines in the Asia-Pacific region and was the first Chinese organisation to earn EN9100 approval. Additionally, more than 20 European and American vendors supporting Airbus customers operate from the centre, which also has a dedicated avionics repair workshop.

Inaugurated in 2011, Airbus (Tianjin) Logistics Centre is fully operational in its facilities at Tianjin Free Trade Zone Comprehensive Bonded Area. Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Tianjin Free Trade Zone in October 2009 to establish a logistics centre, optimising the supply chain management for all of Airbus’ industrial cooperation projects in China.

Training, engineering and manufacturing centres

The first A320 full-flight simulator upgradable to support A320neo (new engine option) flight training is operational at the Hua Ou Aviation Training Centre in Beijing

Airbus’ Beijing training centre was set up jointly with the China Aviation Supplies Import & Export Corporation in 1998, and is the most modern such facility in the country – containing two full simulators: one for the A320 Family and one for the A330/A340 Family. The centre has trained thousands of maintenance engineers, cabin crew and pilots, many of whom come from outside China. 

The Airbus (Beijing) Engineering Centre (ABEC) first opened in July 2005 and, from 2008, became a joint venture between Airbus China Limited (70%), Hafei Aviation Industry Company Limited (HAI, 18%), Jiangxi Hongdu Aviation Industry Company Limited (7%) and China Aviation Industry Corporation I (5%). 

Airbus and its Chinese partners inaugurated the Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre in February 2011 – an eco-efficient joint venture located in Harbin. This 33,000-square foot facility features highly advanced equipment and technology – including automated-tape-laying, autoclave, automated trimming, and non-destructive test equipment.

Supporting operators…and sustaining the industry

Airbus China Limited and its subsidiaries – comprised of the Hua-Ou Aviation Training Centre, Hua-Ou Aviation Support Centre and Airbus (Beijing) Engineering Centre – have been awarded International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 14001 certification status for the manufacturer’s environmental management systems. This certification highlights achievements in monitoring and minimising the environmental effect of their operations. 

With China’s aviation market continuing to grow – and the need to make air transport a more sustainable industry – Airbus has partnered with China’s Tsinghua University to complete a sustainability analysis examining potential alternative sustainable aviation fuel sources, and then develop a plan for escalating production of sustainable jet fuel in the country. This partnership is part of Airbus’ mission to establish “value chains” which link fuel source growers, sustainable aviation fuel manufacturers and airlines on every continent in order to increase production.

In September 2012, Airbus and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) – one of China’s largest energy companies – reached an agreement on developing and promoting renewable aviation fuel production for regular commercial use in China. 

This shared commitment to drive research in sustainable fuel and other initiatives to reduce Chinese aviation industry’s environmental footprint was further reaffirmed with agreements between Airbus and relevant Chinese parties during a March 2014 ceremony at France’s Elysée presidential palace.

Strong ties to Chinese manufacturers

Airbus not only values its relationship with airlines in China, it also appreciates the enormous potential offered by Chinese industry. Currently, over half the Airbus fleet in service worldwide has parts produced by Chinese companies with whom Airbus already enjoys strong relations. The total value of Airbus and the Chinese aviation industry’s cooperation is expected to be near $500 million in 2015.

The industrial ties in China include: the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, which supplies the A320’s rear passenger door and parts of its nose section; the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, producing and assembling the A320’s emergency exit doors, and manufacturing fixed leading edges, wing interspar ribs, cargo doors and skin plates, as well as A330/A340 cargo doors.

In addition, the Xi’an Aircraft Company manufactures electronic bay doors for the A320 and A330/A340 Families, as well as the fixed trailing edges on wings for the A320 Family and the brake blades and medium air ducts for the A330/A340 Family; the Hong Yuan Aviation Forging & Casting (HYFC) supplies titanium forged parts used in mounting powerplants on wings; and the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory produces A320 Family aircraft cargo door frames.

Modernising China’s Airspace

Airbus has launched a key area of cooperation with China to update the nation’s airspace with state-of-the-art air traffic management (ATM) systems. 

In 2013, Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China’s Air Traffic Management Bureau (ATMB) under the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to work together in this area, with Airbus ProSky subsidiary responsible for implementing ATM technologies focussed on improving China’s air transportation capacity and efficiency, while contributing to a sustainable future. 

The MoU provided framework for four projects’ start-up, including: air traffic flow management (ATFM); airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM); assessing the capacity of Chengdu Airport for the implementation of required navigation performance authorisation required (RNP AR) and instrument landing systems (ILS) technology;  and, improving the performance of instrument landing systems at Beijing Capital Airport.

With a new Memorandum of Understanding signed in March 2014 during a ceremony at France’s Elysée presidential palace, an expanded framework was established for continued cooperation between Airbus and China.

A strategy of partnerships

Airbus also seeks to form new industrial partnerships whenever possible. For example, the A318 is the first new Airbus aircraft developed with support from a Chinese engineering team. 

Also, the specially-commissioned roll-on, roll-off ship that transports A380 components within the Airbus production network was built at the country’s Jinling shipyard.

In addition, Airbus has several major technology transfer programmes underway in China, including one that will enable the complete wing of the A320 Family to be manufactured in China. The success of such projects means that as Airbus increases production, it can continue to expand in the region.