China and the European Union have agreed to pursue jointly financed research focused on sharing and developing technologies for cleaner, less polluting and safer aircraft.

The plan, announced on Thursday at the Shanghai Expo’s cloud—shaped aviation pavilion, reflects China’s ambitions and growing importance as an aircraft producer, and Europe’s keenness to remain a leading player in the huge Chinese market.

China has already built latest—generation fighter jets and midrange commercial airliners. After decades of relying mainly on Boeing, Airbus and other imported aircraft for its fast—growing air transport sector, China is now working on a large jet that would compete directly with those suppliers.

The research will initially involve three main projects with budgets totalling 70.5 million yuan ($10.5 million), to be shared by the European Commission and China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

“We believe it is our mission to develop cleaner, safer and more comfortable air transport,” said Li Benjian, deputy director for equipment at China’s MIIT.

One of the projects, focusing on casting of large titanium structures, or COLTS, is meant to reduce waste and carbon dioxide emissions from titanium aircraft components. Another, known as MARS, is meant to reduce drag on aircraft by altering their aerodynamic structures, thus cutting fuel use.

The third, Greener Aeronautics International Networking, will develop large—scale simulation methods and tools for environmentally friendly aviation technologies, officials involved explained.

Rudolf Strohmeier, deputy director general for research for the European Commission, described the plan as a “takeoff in new research cooperation.”

“It’s important because aeronautics is a crucial industrial sector for both the EU and China,” he said.

Demand for air transport is forecast to double within the next 10 to 15 years, adding to carbon emissions blamed for contributing to climate change.

“There is a huge market developing where we believe we can help with our research and our Chinese partners to achieve shared goals,” Mr. Strohmeier said.

The joint research will help China overcome some key hurdles in its own aviation development.

China has titanium deposits and is a major supplier, but lacks critical technology for using the metal effectively in aircraft components, said Liam Breslin, head of the EC’s Aeronautics Unit.

More In: International | News