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Delivery of sightseeing airships scheduled to start this year

By ZHAO LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-02 09:34

The AS700 prototype in Jingmen, Hubei province, on Saturday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Eco-friendly AS700 can carry nine tourists, with 18 orders received so far

Deliveries of the AS700, a multipurpose civilian airship model, are scheduled to start before the end of this year, according to State-owned conglomerate Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft maker.

"Following news reports about it having received type certificate, some large domestic travel agencies and tourist destinations have reached us to ask about its capability and performance," Du Wei, a senior engineer at AVIC and project manager of the AS700, said on Sunday.

"So far, we have received orders for 18 AS700s and deliveries will begin before year's end."

Zhou Lei, the AS700's chief designer, said that Chinese people are becoming more interested in low-altitude aerial tourism, and his airship features a comfortable flight experience, eco-friendliness and high flight safety, which means it is a good choice for aerial sightseeing.

On Saturday, a prototype conducted the model's maiden ferry flight.

During the flight, the airship took off from Jingmen Zhanghe Airport and landed at Jingzhou Shashi General Aviation Airport after staying airborne for one hour and 46 minutes.

Lin Hong, a pilot who operated the prototype during the flight, said the airship was easy to control and good at making maneuvers in limited space.

Designed and built by the Special Aircraft Research Institute, an AVIC subsidiary in Jingmen, Hubei province, the AS700's research and development started in August 2018, with the main aim of meeting tourist demand for sightseeing air tours.

Propelled by piston engines, the airship has a maximum takeoff weight of 4.15 metric tons and a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour. The craft is able to carry one pilot and nine tourists and is capable of flying 700 kilometers and staying in the air for up to 10 hours.

There are three prototypes: the first was built as an unmanned platform for technology demonstration and completed all of its assigned test flights, the second and third are crewed and tasked with making test flights for certification procedures, according to Du.

After intensive test flights, the AS700 received type certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in December, becoming the first manned airship in the country to be domestically certified.

Type certificate refers to an approval document issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China after a set of strict test procedures, and is one of the most important documents any civilian aircraft needs to obtain to make sure its design and performance meet standards.

The Special Aircraft Research Institute has designed a number of manned and unmanned airships since the mid-1980s, with most being small models used to carry scientific equipment to perform experiments or demonstrate technology, rather than for commercial purposes. None of the previous manned types had been certified by the CAAC.

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