TIANJIN: The Airbus A320 final assembly facility here in China delivered 46 aircraft last year, an increase of about 25% compared to 2012.
Airbus (Tianjin) Final Assembly Co Ltd general manager Andreas Ockel said while the company strived to maintain the same record this year, it was also evaluating the possibility of producing two more aircraft.
The facility in Tianjin, which is the third Airbus final assembly line in the world after Toulouse in France and Hamburg in Germany, assembled its first aircraft in May 2009.
A joint-venture between Airbus and a Chinese consortium, comprising Tianjin Free Trade Zone and China Aviation Industry Corporation, the assembly facility is based on the Airbus single aisle final assembly line in Hamburg.
Since the beginning of its operations, the quality of the aircraft produced at the assembly facility has been a regular query.
“We adopt a copy-and-paste approach, both in the facility and during the production process. You will not be able to tell the difference between the aircraft produced here and those in Europe,” Ockel said.
The facility assembles the A319 and A320 for the Chinese market. Each aircraft takes 45 to 50 days to assemble.
To date, some 160 aircraft are delivered to 13 airlines including AirAsia, the only foreign airline that has taken delivery of an Airbus assembled here.
The aircraft was procured under an operating lease agreement with ICBC Leasing.
Delivered in December 2012, it is now sub-leased to AirAsia Indonesia.
AirAsia Bhd chief executive officer Aireen Omar, who visited the assembly facility on Saturday, said the aircraft had been working well.
“Perhaps there are perceptions that the aircraft may not be of certain quality, but our engineers said the aircraft is as good as the ones assembled in Toulouse,” she said.
Aireen added that AirAsia Bhd aimed to double the revenue contributed by the Chinese market in the next two to three years, which took up at least 15% of its current revenue.
“While we look at exploring new destinations in China, we want to focus on strengthening the market we have already entered.
“Our priority is to increase frequency and introduce more connectivity from our other destinations,” she said.
For example, AirAsia currently flies to Shenzhen from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. It might consider flying to Shenzhen from other Malaysian destinations.
Similarly, other associates in the AirAsia Group would also explore more possibilities of connecting to the Chinese cities.
“China is very important to us. It fits well into our growth plan and our whole network,” Aireen said.
While the Chinese authorities were not familiar with the operations of low-cost carriers when AirAsia first entered China in 2007, Aireen noted that they have learned fast and began to include low-cost carrier terminals as part of their airport expansion plans.
“They are encouraging and supportive of low-cost carriers, which have contributed to the growth of tourism business in the local economy.
“They also see how their own citizens are able to travel around the world with the presence of low-cost carriers,” she said.
AirAsia is the largest foreign airline operating into China by capacity.