American passenger jets will soon be taking off from Boeing’s only manufacturing facility outside of Seattle, which will be up and running in China by the end of the year.

The first plane to roll off its assembly line at the massive, airport-like plant in Zhoushan in east China’s Zhejiang province will be a 737 Max, the latest variant of Boeing’s best-selling narrow-body series.

The Zhoushan facility is officially known as Boeing 737 Completion and Delivery Center, jointly owned by the US aviation giant and the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China.

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An artist’s impression of Boeing’s Chinese plant in Zhoushan. Photos: Handout

Boeing is set to “outsource” some pre-delivery handiwork to the new Chinese plant: after fuselage sections are bolted together and engines and avionics are installed, brand-new 737s already ordered by Chinese carriers will fly into Zhoushan from the Renton factory near Seattle.

There, the 737s will go undergo a paint job to get rid of their distinctive, green protective coating while seats and other cabin facilities are installed.

After reaching its full capacity, the Zhoushan plant will be able to perform finishing work on around 100 737s a year, according to Boeing.

Leading carriers including Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines all operate sizable 737 fleets, with the newest Max models being snapped up as new deals are negotiated.

The Zhoushan plant will also be tasked to convert old 737 passenger jets into freighters to ferry cargo across China.

According to a report issued by Boeing in September, the Chinese market will need some 400 cargo carriers modified from passenger jets in the next 20 years, representing 33% of the world’s total demand.

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Zhoushan, in the eastern Zhejiang province, lies in a cluster of urban centres including Shanghai and Ningbo with sound transportation infrastructure. Photo: Google Maps
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The groundbreaking ceremony of the Zhoushan plant, held in May 2017. Photo: Handout

The Zhoushan plant, close to Shanghai, home base of China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines, may also give Boeing some much needed tailwind at a time when big firms are suffering the fallout when China and the US are still locked in a protracted trade war.

Beijing has singled out certain US-made jets for a 25% retaliatory tariff but the Zhoushan plant can make a strong case for Boeing: now that finishing touches are being added to new 737s for Chinese carriers at a Chinese facility, some preferential treatment from Beijing is thus warranted under the name of “localized production”.

It is the first time that Boeing has expanded part of its 737 production system overseas, and it has done so to be closer to Chinese clients, said the company, hailing the project as a major breakthrough in US-China cooperation in high-tech industries.