Author`s name Alex Naumov

China buys 160 Airbus jets becoming world's second-biggest aircraft market

Airbus said it signed contracts Monday to sell 160 commercial passenger jets to China in a deal worth around $14.8 billion.

The order includes 110 of the European company's A320 jets and 50 of the slightly larger A330 planes, Airbus officials said in Beijing, where they were accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his first state visit to the Asian trading giant.

Airbus and Chinese partners this summer signed an agreement to produce A320s in China in anticipation of large Chinese orders for the popular single aisle jet that seats 150 or more passengers. Size-wise, the plane is well suited for Chinese domestic routes expected to show strong growth in the years ahead as the economy continues to expand.

Airbus and its American archrival Boeing Co. predict China will become the world's second-biggest aircraft market after the United States, with airlines buying 1,900 to 2,600 planes over the next two decades, the AP reports.

In 2006, a visit by former French president Jacques Chirac saw the signing of an agreement for the sale of 150 Airbus A320s to China.

China's domestic air traffic is expected to double every five years and aviation authorities believe three of their airlines will be among the world's top 10 both in terms of passenger traffic and revenue by 2020.

This makes it absolutely essential for Airbus as well as US rival Boeing to be part of the market.

In a bid to cement its ties with China, Airbus began in May construction in of an assembly plant in Tianjin city 110 kilometres (68 miles) east of Beijing, its first outside of Europe.

The aircraft assembly facility is currently slated to begin operations in early 2009 and by 2011 hopes to be producing four A320 planes a month. It is expected to have produced a total of 300 planes by 2016, the AFP reports.

Source: agencies