Embraer and Avic would extend their cooperation in business jets to sales and service if Beijing approves a proposal to build Legacy 650s in Harbin.

Approval should come in the first half of this year, says Ernest Edwards, president of Embraer Executive Jets.

The proposal is to convert a Harbin production line that previously built ERJ-145 regional jets to instead make the Legacy 650, an adaptation of the ERJ-135, itself a shortened ERJ-135.

The great majority of the tooling can be retained, says Guan Dongyuan, the head of the Brazilian company’s operations in China.

The production line is currently 51% owned by Embraer and 49% by Avic, but that could change, says Guan.

On the Chinese side, the whole Harbin plant is part of Avic’s rotary-wing division, Avicopter, but Guan says Embraer is dealing with Avic headquarters; assignment of the Legacy 650 to one Avic subsidiary or another will be up to Avic.

Widening the deal beyond joint production is a crucial step for Avic, which aims at moving into the business jet market. Developing such aircraft and getting them certified is not the only challenge for Avic, since the company also has no experience in selling and supporting them.

Initially, Harbin production would be only for Chinese buyers. Later it would supply other markets. No forecast for those Chinese sales of the Legacy 650 is given.

Embraer expects Chinese buyers to take delivery of 630 business jets from all manufacturers over the coming 10 years, adding to about 210 already in the country. The orders will be worth $21 billion.

On Feb. 14, Embraer announced an order from China’s Minsheng Financial Leasing for three Lineage 1000 business jets, derived from the Embraer 190 airliner.

Guan says there are early signs that Chinese buyers are becoming more interested in smaller aircraft, but for the moment the market remains highly focused on large business jets. Other industry executives have said that the reason for that is largely cultural: owning a bizjet is a way of impressing one’s business partners and friends; owning a big one is even better.

But as the market matures, executives expect that the aircraft will increasingly be bought by people and companies who see them mainly as useful tools for transport.

A further factor, present in commercial as well as business aviation, is a common belief in China that larger aircraft are safer.