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Airbus begins building first plant outside Europa

Airbus broke ground Tuesday in China on its first factory to produce finished aircraft outside Europe.

Construction of the plant, which is a joint venture between Airbus and Tianjin Zhongtian Aviation Industry Investment Co, is to be completed by the end of the year in the northern port city of Tianjin, and its first A320 is to be delivered at the beginning of 2009, Airbus said. By 2011, the factory should be churning out 44 planes a year on the grounds of Binhai airport, about 100 kilometers south-east of Beijing, for the joint venture, which is 51% owned by Airbus.

Attending Tuesday's ceremony was China's highest-ranking foreign-policy official, Tang Jiaxuan, former foreign minister and a member of the State Council, China's cabinet. He called the Airbus project an important component in strengthening the strategic partnership between China and Europe. Tang's surprise participation indicated the importance Beijing's leadership places on Airbus coming to China and the development of China's own aircraft industry. The cooperation was important for the promotion of the aircraft industry in both China and Europa, Tang said.

China is the second-largest aviation market in the world after the United States. By 2025, it was expected to need 3,000 passenger and cargo aircraft, and Airbus said it aims to integrate China increasingly more into its industrial organization. At 5,000 orders, the A320 is the most popular plane for the European aircraft maker. About 270 of them are flying today in China, making up 80% of China's Airbus fleet. Airbus is trailing Boeing Co in China but has outdone the US company in new orders for the past two years. It has seen its market share rise from 5% in 1995 to 35% and wants to match Boeing's sales in three to four years.(