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First Chinese Airbus A320 due

BEIJING, Jun 21 – European aviation giant Airbus will deliver the first A320 airplane assembled at its factory in China on Tuesday, in a symbolic event further marking the nation\’s global rise.

The first plane to be made at plant in northern Tianjin, the only Airbus factory outside Europe, will be delivered to Dragon Aviation Leasing and will be flown by Sichuan Airlines, a regional Chinese air carrier.

A grand ceremony is expected to be held for the roll out, but so far Airbus has remained discreet about who has been invited to the event which will take place with no minister-level officials from Germany or France, sources said.

The plane took its first test flight last month with the first Chinese test engineer trained by Airbus.

Ten middle-distance A319/320 aircraft will be delivered by the end of the year, before the factory starts to churn out up to four planes a month before the end of 2011.

The Tianjin plant, modelled on Airbus\’ factory in Hamburg, Germany, has an investment of nearly $1.47 billion and went into operation in September in the presence of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

The joint venture factory, about 120 kilometres southeast of Beijing, is 51 percent owned by Airbus, subsidiary of the European group EADS, and 49 percent by a Chinese aviation consortium.

Unions raised concerns when the deal was struck, but the aviation giant insisted orders would not fall at its European plants and that it had worked to minimise technology transfers to China.

The venture has also revealed the extent that Airbus has gone to get a foot hold in one of the world\’s most dynamic markets.

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At the inauguration Airbus chief-executive-officer Thomas Enders said the company\’s "new house" would become "the jump off point for the future development of Airbus in China and in the region."

China\’s air market, the second biggest in the world, makes up 15 percent of sales at Airbus, which sold its first plane here – an A310 – in 1985.

The decision to build the China plant was based on strong growth estimates that expect the nation to buy up to 2,800 passenger and transport planes over the next 20 years.

These planes, of which 190 are expected to be jumbo jets, are valued at about $329 billion.

In the next two decades, passenger travel is also expected to increase five-fold, according to industry estimates.

Airbus\’ goal is to gain half of the China market from now until 2012, compared with a 39 percent market share in mid-2008 and up from a seven percent share in 1995. Its main rival is current global market leader Boeing.

Coinciding with Tuesday\’s roll out, China Eastern Airlines, the nation\’s third largest air carrier, signed an order last week at the Le Bourget Air Show in France for 20 Airbus A320s to be delivered between 2011 and 2013.

The order is part of a deal for 160 jets – 110 A320s and 50 A330s – that China said it would buy in 2007 during a visit to Beijing by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In September, Chinese air carriers had signed agreements and memoranda for the purchase of a total of 280 planes, Airbus said.

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Tuesday\’s delivery and the China Eastern order will be a boost for Airbus as it tries to weather the recent fatal accident of the Air France jet over the Atlantic, as well as a market still reeling from the global financial downturn.

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