The regional airliner market can be lucrative for air carriers which, in turn, can provide a boon to aircraft-makers. With the growing popularity of shoulder-winged, turboprop-powered "twins" seen in the last two decades or so, Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation of China (under parent label Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC)) has become a player in the global marketplace offering such aircraft types. In August of 2000, its "Modern Ark 60", or "MA60", series was launched through carrier Sichuan Airlines and over 100 units have been delivered to various operators since. Variants of the line have also grown today (2018) to include two major offshoots in the MA600 and MA700 models detailed elsewhere on this site.
The shoulder-winged nature of these aircraft, and those like it, allows for excellent control at low speed and low altitude while also generating a fair amount of lifting to promote equally-excellent Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) qualities. This allows such aircraft to operate from austere / rough runways and reach normally inaccessible areas of a map. Considering China's vast frontier space, it makes sense to develop a powerful, utility performer with these characteristics and the MA60 has proven itself a stepping stone (and modest success) for the Chinese aero-industry with production continuing today (2018) - despite over a dozen accidents involving the type.
Origins of the MA60 place it as a further development of the earlier Xian Y7 (specifically the "Y7-200A") of similar form and function and this aircraft was developed from experience in operating / maintaining the Soviet Antonov An-24 and An-26 airliner / transport models (these also being of shoulder-winged, twin-engined design). The Chinese were able to secure local production licensing of the aircraft while also importing the aircraft for local operation - in turn presenting Chinese engineers with unfettered access to what was, for its time, first-world technology in the East. While only 103 of the Y-7 turboprops were made this design was nonetheless instrumental in the offerings by Xian/AVIC today.
The MA60 utilizes a conventional shape as turboprop airliners go: its flight deck (with side-by-side seating for two) is positioned just behind and above a short nosecone for excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit. The fuselage is tubular as expected and dotted with rows of windows along each side. There is seating for about sixty passengers. The mainplanes are high along the fuselage sides and hold the underslung engine nacelles (one engine to a wing) as well as the twin-wheeled main landing gear legs. The tail unit is traditional with a single, large-area vertical fin and low-mounted horizontal planes. At the front, under the nose section, is a twin-wheeled nose leg.
Dimensions include a running length of 81 feet, a wingspan of 95.9 feet and a height of 29 feet. Empty weight is 30,200lb while the Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) reaches 48,050lb. Power is from 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PW127J series turboprop engines offering up to 2,750 horsepower each. Maximum speed can reach 320 miles per hour with cruising done closer to 270mph. Range is nearly 1,000 miles and the aircraft's service ceiling is listed at 25,000 feet.
A first-flight in prototype form of the MA60 was recorded on February 25th, 2000 and production began that same year. Type certification was achieved in June of 2000 but the aircraft has only been certified to fly in Western airspaces like that of Europe or the United States.
By 2006, the series had achieved nearly 100 ordered aircraft and, today (2018), over 310 are still on the books for manufacture with various operators around the globe. This list includes Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, the Democratic Republic of the Bolivia, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Republic of the Congo, Tajikistan, Tonga, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. China is the largest operator of the series with twenty-four examples in service and a further twenty-nine awaiting manufacture and delivery. Some operators utilize the multi-role aircraft at the military level as is the case with Bolivia, Cambodia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Laos, and Zambia.
The MA60 includes the MA60-100, MA60-MPA, the MA50, MA60H-500 and the aforementioned MA600 (detailed elsewhere on this site). The MA60-100 has seen a reduction in operating weight to better perform while the MA60-MPA "Fearless Albatross" is a proposed military-minded maritime patroller form. The MA40 has seating for about forty passengers and the MA60H-500 is a militarized transport model complete with rear-fitted loading/unloading cargo door.