Beijing: China has started assembling the world's largest amphibious aircraft which it plans to deploy in the disputed South China Sea besides aggressively marketing it abroad.
China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co which is developing the aircraft has received 17 domestic orders for what will be the world's largest sea plane, state-run China Daily reported on Saturday.
China started assembling its first domestically developed seaplane, which is expected to capture a big share in the international market, the report said.
Powered by four turboprop engines, it will be the world's largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan's ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia's Beriev Be-200, Huang Lingcai, the chief designer of the plane said.
India plans to buy Japanese sea planes to counter-balance Chinese Navy' growing might in blue waters.
The Chinese plane will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons and an operational range of about 4,500 kilometers.
China has decommissioned all of its seaplanes - reportedly as many as five SH-5 maritime patrol amphibious aircraft, he said.
"Since the first day of its development, the AG-600 has been designed for the global market. We are confident in its market prospects because the aircraft's overall specifications, such as the maximum takeoff weight and flight range, are better than other amphibious planes in the world," Qu Jingwen, general manager of the firm said.
"Some countries with many islands, such as Malaysia and New Zealand, have expressed interest in the AG-600, and we are in contact with them," he said yesterday in Zhuhai, at a ceremony marking the start of assembly.
The aircraft maker has received 17 orders from domestic companies.
One of the buyers will use it to carry tourists to reefs and islands in the South China Sea, he said.
China has maritime dispute with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over the South China Sea. AG-600 will play an important role in forest fire control, maritime search and rescue, personnel and supply transport and law enforcement tasks at sea, Huang said.
He said that the plane can fly a round trip between Sanya in Hainan province and the shoal of Zengmu Ansha, the southernmost point of China's territory, without refuelling.
The AG-600 can carry 50 people during a maritime search and rescue mission.
To extinguish forest fires, it can take on 12 metric tons of water from a lake or sea within 20 seconds and pour it on the fire.
The project was launched in September 2009.
The aircraft's debut flight is planned for the first half of next year, Leng Yixun, director of general aviation products at AVIC, said the company estimates China will need at least 100 seaplanes over the next 15 years.