China, Europe pledge closer aviation ties ahead of landmark jet launch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese and European aviation regulators said on Thursday they will forge closer ties over aircraft manufacturing and certification as the global industry turns its eyes to China ahead of the maiden flight of the Chinese-built C919 jet.

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The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are holding a landmark meeting on aviation in Shanghai as China’s government pushes for a bigger role in the global aviation market.

The first flight in May of the C919 jet, built by Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), will mark a major step for Beijing. The government hopes the jet will compete with Boeing Co and Airbus SE for a slice of global jet sales worth $2 trillion over the next 20 years.

A big hurdle, though, is that Europe and the United States have yet to certify a domestically built Chinese passenger plane and do not currently recognize Chinese certification procedures, limiting the countries to which China can sell its planes.

“The ever closer ties between the Chinese and European aviation industries have created good conditions and a solid foundation to deepen cooperation on aircraft manufacturing and certification,” CAAC administrator Feng Zhenglin said.

Another CAAC official said closer ties would “increase the global influence and competitiveness of Chinese aviation”.

The meeting between CAAC and EASA is the first since the two signed an agreement in 2015 to cooperate more closely on aviation issues in a five-year project.

The ties have already yielded some results. EASA said on Wednesday it had started the process of certification for the C919, though no decision had yet been made.

China’s first domestically made plane, the regional ARJ21 jet, has yet to receive U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or EASA certification, which had raised questions over whether the larger C919 jet would be approved in the West.

The Shanghai meeting will see a raft of global aviation firms including COMAC, Airbus, Safran SA, Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC and British Airways, part of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA.

Reporting by Jackie Cai and Brenda Goh; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Christopher Cushing