A U.S. sightseeing airline has ordered twenty Chinese-built civilian aircraft, marking the first time for China to export civilian aircraft to the United States. The planes will be based in Las Vegas, and used for aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, as well as light cargo transportation.

The Harbin Aircraft Industry Group's Y-12 is China's biggest-selling civilian aircraft. The planes were purchased by a California company called Coptervision. According to Wikipedia, the Y-12 first flew in 1982 and has been in production since 1985. It is a high-wing design, powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engines. Forbes says four of the planes ordered are the Y-12F, which holds up to 19 passengers. The other 16 planes on order are the Y-12E. The Y-12F is expecting its FAA type certification in about 6 months.

Harbin Y-12F photo by Allen Zhao / Wikipedia Commons

China's aviation industry is really coming into its own. The country's new Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter made its public debut last week, wowing audiences and dignitaries with impressive capabilities.

COMAC C919 model, on display in Beijing in 2013 (Associated Press)

Perhaps more interestingly, China's Commercial Aircraft Corporation, COMAC is building the C919, an Airbus 320-sized narrowbody airliner projected to make its first flight late in 2015, and enter service in 2018. The plane will be built in Shanghai, and powered by General Electric's LEAP-1 engine, the same that Boeing will use for the 737 MAX. Boeing and it's top competitor, Airbus have enjoyed a duopoly in the market segment of planes this size for decades. European low-cost carrier (and one of Boeing's biggest customers) Ryanair partnered with COMAC during the design phase of the C919. 430 of the planes have been ordered by primarily Chinese airlines, and I can see the C919 making inroads via developing countries.

Advertisement

China has been playing catch-up in terms of aviation engineering, but once these products enter the market on a more global scale, their success or failure will be determined by how broadly they're adopted, and whether they deliver on their customers' expectations. Time will tell if China can truly disrupt the aviation world with its planes, but they're certainly gaining a lot of attention for the time being.

Top photo via Kentaro Iemoto (Flickr / CC Commercial License)