China unveils its home-grown 85-seater ARJ-21 passenger jet

China unveiled its first fully home-grown commercial aircraft - the ARJ-21 - on Friday 21 December. Dubbed the Xiangfeng or 'Flying Phoenix', the function was held at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, according to the Commission of Science Technology & Industry for National Defence. The ceremony was closed to media apart from the official Xinhua News Agency.

A regional passenger jet with up to 85 seats, the ARJ-21 is scheduled to make its maiden flight in March. The manufacturer, China Aviation Industry Corp I (AVIC I), plans to begin mass production in 2009.

The state-owned AVIC I aims to be a competitor to other makers of small passenger jets like Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer. It is laying the groundwork for the development of a Chinese commercial jet twice the size of the ARJ-21.

AVIC I says the ARJ-21 is expected to grab up to 60 per cent of the Chinese domestic market for mid-size regional airliners over the next 20 years. China is projected to need about 900 mid-sized regional jets over the next two decades, as economic growth expands air travel and airlines look for planes best tailored to feeder routes.