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FAA opens door for sales of Chinese planes to US, others

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Shanghai – Just ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to China, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has signed an airworthiness certification deal that effectively opens the door to Chinese sales of airplanes to the US and other countries.

The agreement boosts Beijing’s hopes of becoming a global supplier of commercial jetliners and of breaking open a market currently dominated by Boeing Co. and Airbus SE.

“It is a really big deal; a milestone in the US-China relationship,” Geoffrey Jackson, executive director of the US-China Aviation Cooperation Program, a Beijing-based body created by the US government and aerospace companies, said of the agreement. The FAA confirmed the agreement on Oct. 27, four days after its announcement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to arrive in Beijing Wednesday, bringing a tough message on the balance of Sino-US trade, which he has long argued is skewed unfairly against America.

In that context, the handing of a major trade prize to China in the lead-up to his visit underscored that cooperating with the Chinese authorities to retain access to the China’s huge aerospace market remains as much of a priority as extracting trade concessions.

“From a symbolic standpoint this is a significant step in US-China trade, and it happened under a president who promised protectionism, particularly with China trade policy,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president at Teal Group Corp., an aerospace intelligence company.

China has longstanding strategic ambitions to build and export jetliners. The country’s first large commercial aircraft, the C919, developed by the state-run Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, conducted its maiden flight in May, and is expected to enter service around 2020. The company, known as Comac, already has 300 firm orders for the plane, almost all from Chinese buyers.

But most of the world’s airlines only buy jets that have been certified by credible agencies, notably the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency. Until now Chinese certification didn’t count for much outside China itself.

The signing of the new US-China airworthiness agreement changes that, aviation analysts say.

The pact grants China “comprehensive peer recognition” as an aerospace supplier, the CAAC said. Previously, all American aviation products were eligible for use in China, whereas only a handful of Chinese aviation products could enter the US.

But now all Chinese-built aircraft and aviation components can potentially be sold to US customers thanks to the “mutual recognition” enshrined in the new agreement, the CAAC said.

Airplanes certified by China won’t automatically be allowed to fly in US airspace, the FAA stressed: “These products are subject to a validation process… defined in the agreement,” which could still include a full technical review.

Even so, the agreement puts China’s aviation authorities on a par with those in Europe, Canada and Brazil, which have similar arrangements with the FAA. It should make it much quicker and easier for Chinese jets like the C919 to gain international recognition.

Major US aerospace exporters such as Boeing, Honeywell International, Inc. and General Electric rely heavily on China sales. Chinese airlines already buy roughly twice as many single-aisle planes as their American counterparts, and Boeing expects China to buy 7,420 jetliners over the next 20 years.

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