China Eastern Airlines became the recipient of the first Airbus A350-900 wide-body aircraft completed at the latter's wide-body aircraft completion and delivery center in Tianjin on Wednesday.
The delivery marks the European plane maker's deepening of its long-term commitment to China, Airbus' largest market.
The wide-body completion and delivery center in Tianjin serves as the only such facility for Airbus outside of Europe. This year, Airbus plans to deliver five A350s from Tianjin to Chinese airlines.
China Eastern Airlines is the largest Airbus operator in Asia and the second-largest globally.
George Xu, Airbus' executive vice-president and its CEO in China, said, "I'm proud that Airbus has successfully extended the capability of the wide-body center in Tianjin to the A350, our latest generation of aircraft, at such a difficult time for the global aviation industry given the COVID-19 pandemic."
Airbus said it has sent experts from Toulouse to China to train staff members at the Tianjin center for the completion work of the A350. The center is responsible for cabin installation, aircraft painting, flight tests, customer acceptance and aircraft delivery.
"The A350 project in Tianjin just began and about 160 staff members are still in a learning process. Tianjin is expected to steadily increase the monthly production rate of the A350," Xu said.
"We have seen a high utilization rate of the A350 aircraft. It has a remarkable growth potential in China. Since the pandemic, carriers have been focusing more on saving costs and preferring comfortable and reliable aircraft, and they are willing to choose aircraft in latest generations."
In the first half of this year, Airbus delivered 64 aircraft in all to Chinese airlines, accounting for 21.5 percent of its global deliveries, indicating a strong recovery of China's civil aviation market since the pandemic was brought under better control in the country.
In the first half, 245 million passenger trips were handled by commercial flights in China, up 66 percent year-on-year, and reached 76 percent of the level seen in the same period of 2019 before the pandemic, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
"China has high demand for wide-body aircraft like the A350, and the size of the A350 fleet that is currently in service in China already takes a considerable share globally. Airbus is further increasing its investment in Tianjin, as it has seen the attractiveness of the China market," said Zou Jianjun, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China.
"The move also shows Airbus' recognition of China's investment-friendly environment, especially at a time of global trade frictions," he said.
The Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Center, a joint venture of Airbus and its Chinese industrial partners, is playing an important role in the global supply chain of Airbus by producing composite-material components for the A350 planes.
Airbus said it would like to cooperate with more Chinese suppliers as the latter provide top-quality products at competitive prices. It also hopes to cooperate with more technology firms in China in areas like interior installations.
Airbus' continued investments in China have helped it to increase its market share to 52.5 percent in the country and steal a march over its US rival Boeing Co. The latter boasts around 48 percent market share, making the local market a virtual duopoly.
The A350 features a carbon-fiber fuselage and wings, and it can reduce 25 percent of fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions compared with other wide-body aircraft. As at the end of June, the A350 family had received 915 firm orders from 49 customers worldwide.
Airbus said it will continue to promote sustainable aviation fuel and expects to launch the first hydrogen-fueled aircraft before 2035.