China amphibious aircraft
Officials of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) unveil the newly-made nose of amphibious aircraft AG600, during a ceremony at a factory in Chengdu, Sichuan provinceHandout via Reuters file photo

China has unveiled the world's largest amphibious aircraft which Beijing says will be useful in fighting forest fires and embarking on rescue missions. The massive seaplane, completed seven years after work on it started, is part of China's efforts in minimising its dependence on foreign goods in crucial sectors.

The AG600, nearly the size of a Boeing 737, was rolled out by the state-backed Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic) in the southern city of Zhuhai on Saturday, 23 July, reported the state-run news outlet Xinhua.

According to the Chinese manufacturers, the aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes and a flight range of up to 4,500kms. Avic said this is so far the largest plane with marine landing and take-off capability.

The agency's deputy general manager, Geng Rugang, hailed the aircraft as "the latest breakthrough in China's aviation industry". With a capacity to cruise at 500kms, the plane can pick up as much as 12 tonnes of water within 20 seconds.

The plane's chief designer Huang Lingcai was cited as saying: "When people fall into water, the prime time for rescuing them should be within two to seven hours. After receiving the call, we can quickly take off, land on the water surface directly, and help the victims on to the plane even under inclement weather conditions such as encountering two-meter high waves."

The aircraft is expected to be put to test later this year.

Xinhua also noted that the plane would enhance Beijing's capabilities in the South China Sea, where the country is locked in bitter territorial disputes with multiple nations. The aircraft is aimed at meeting domestic requirements, Avic added.