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Airbus, AVIC deal paves way to lighter aircraft

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-24 09:24
A technician installs an engine for an A320 plane under construction at the final assembly line of the Airbus plant in Tianjin. [Photo/Agencies]

Airbus Beijing Engineering Center Ltd and AVIC Composite Corp Ltd signed a cooperation agreement on Tuesday, and the two will jointly conduct research and development on electrically conductive composite materials for application on aircraft.

Currently, the new generation of materials is not applied in any aircraft manufacturing globally. Composite materials are light and with high performance, but they do not perform well in terms of conductivity. With good conductivity, they can bring major changes to the fuselage.

This kind of new composite material is expected to have a significant potential. It would help to reduce the weight of aircraft, protect against lightning and icing, and facilitate maintenance. If developed successfully, it will also help to reduce environmental pollution and extend the life span of aircraft, according to European aircraft manufacturer Airbus SE.

"We think highly of China's innovation abilities, and AVIC Composite is outstanding in its research of composite materials. This year, we have launched the biggest scale of R&D cooperation with Chinese industrial players," said Francois Mery, COO of Airbus China Commercial Aircraft.

"China is endeavoring in pushing forward various types of innovation, and innovation is a key driving force of Airbus. We would like to take advantage of such a cooperation opportunity," he said.

Major passenger jet models currently use composite materials reinforced with carbon fiber. The Airbus A350 uses 52 percent of composite materials, and 50 percent of the Boeing B787 is made of composite materials, if calculated by weight. The C919, China's first domestically built single-aisle passenger jet, uses about 30 percent of composite materials.

Founded in 2005, ABEC is a joint venture between Airbus and Aviation Industry Corp of China Ltd, in which Airbus has a 70 percent stake. More than 130 Chinese engineers work at the center. Regarding the widebody A350 XWB aircraft, Airbus manufactures 5 percent of its airframe in China, and Chinese engineers at ABEC participated in its initial design work.

"We are at the early stage of the research, and hopefully we can test the feasibility of the new composite material next year. Going from labs to the industry requires a long time, and the application needs to pass strict verification, which may need about 5-10 years," said Michel Tran Van, general manager of ABEC.

By 2020, the total output from industrial cooperation between Airbus and Chinese companies is expected to reach $1 billion. The amount was $641 million last year, according to Airbus.

Cooperation between Airbus and Chinese industrial players has helped to significantly increase its market share in China over its rival Boeing Co.

Meanwhile, Boeing has unveiled its first overseas completion and delivery center for its single-aisle aircraft in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, and it will deliver the first single-aisle B737 MAX plane from Zhoushan to a domestic airline by the end of the year.

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