World’s largest amphibious aircraft is being termed as the latest breakthrough in “China’s aviation industry.”

China has completed production of the world’s largest amphibious aircraft. The state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) unveiled the first of the new planes, dubbed the AG600, Saturday in the southern port city of Zhuhai.

The amphibious aircraft – AG600 – has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes, a maximum flight range of 4,500 km, and it can collect 12 tones of water in 20 seconds.

The Chinese plane, which is targeted at the domestic market, will be “very useful in developing and exploiting marine resources,” the article said, adding that it could be used for “environmental monitoring, resource detection and transportation”.

Chief designer Huang Lingcai said, ‘The AG600 is like a ship that can fly, with advanced gas-water dynamic engineering and underwater corrosion resistance technology.’

The aircraft, which is equivalent to the Boeing 737 in size, will be used to contain forest fires and conduct major marine rescue operations.

Its wingspan is considerably smaller than that of the H-4 Hercules, known as the Spruce Goose, which was designed in the 1940s to carry Allied troops into battle. It is regarded as by far the largest seaplane ever built although it only ever made one flight, in 1947.

Aviation Corporation of China engineer Huang Lingcai said, ‘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 seaplane, which can rescue up to 50 people in a single trip, has the capacity to store 12 tons of water. It will also be used for exploiting marine resources and transportation.

The AG600 could potentially extend the Asian giant’s ability to conduct a variety of operations in the South China Sea, where it has built a series of artificial islands featuring air strips, among other infrastructure with the potential for either civilian or military use.

China is seeking to develop its own aviation sector to reduce dependence on and even challenge foreign giants, such as European consortium Airbus and Boeing of the United States, though analysts say it could take years. AVIC has received 17 orders for the plane so far.

The AG-600 will give China the ability to more quickly reinforce the military garrisons on its man-made islands in the South China Sea. An international court of arbitration on July 12 declared China has no legal rights to claim most of the South China Sea. The same court also found China had infringed on the Philippines’ territorial rights. China has unilaterally dismissed the ruling.

Beijing, however, claims the AG-600 will be used mostly for marine rescue; exploiting marine resources; environmental monitoring; resource detection and transportation and to fight “forest fires.”

Built by state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the AG-600 was unveiled on July 23 in the southern port city of Zhuhai. The seaplane will only be sold within China and AVIC said it’s received 17 orders for the seaplane so far.

AVIC deputy general manager Geng Rugang described the AG-600 as “the latest breakthrough in China’s aviation industry.”