On Saturday the AG600 made its first flight from water. The program was approved in 2009 and unveiled in 2016. The plan is for AVIC to start deliveries in 2022. This is typical for Chinese aircraft programs – it takes a long time to get from the concept approval to first flight.
China is talking up the AG600 as a civilian aircraft. But it clearly is dual-use. While that should not be a problem, concern across the South China Sea will fixate on the military capabilities of the aircraft.
China has developed several large aircraft: the Y-20 and the C919. They are getting better with each program. China’s aerospace industry is steadily climbing the learning curve. One only has to see the improvement from the ARJ-21 to the C919 to understand this.
China notes the AG600 can carry 50 passengers from a maritime rescue mission. Or scoop up 12 tons of water for firefighting. The aircraft has a range of 2,800 miles and an effective 12-hour mission capability. And it is these other capabilities that fan the fears across the South China Sea. With a payload of 54 tons (land takeoff) or 48 tons (water takeoff), this aircraft can carry out significant military operations. China’s ambitions across the South China Sea, taking over islands and militarizing them, can only go better with an AG600. Even as this makes many nervous, it also helps sell aircraft. Even if it’s not the AG600. India is also looking for amphibians. We expect others will follow.