CAL places 737-800 order

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CHINA AIRLINES (CAL) of Taiwan, after considerable delay, has finally placed an order for six Boeing 737-800s, plus nine options, to meet its requirement for a new 150-seat passenger airliner.

The aircraft will replace CAL's three early-build 737-200s and two wet-leased Airbus A320s due to be returned by the end of 1996. The airline will lease an interim number of 737-400s until the first of the new 737-800s is ready to enter service in 1998.

CAL opted for the Boeings after a lengthy evaluation of the competing Airbus Industrie A320/321 and McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30ER. The aircraft in the $750 million deal will be delivered in the second half of 1998.

According to local sources, CAL had initially preferred a mix of A320/321s, but has come under political pressure to instead select a US aircraft. The move is understood to have been in response to Taiwanese President Lee Tenghui's controversial visit to the USA in June 1995.

Both CAL and its main competitor Eva Air signed letters of intent for four Boeing 777s during Lee's trip, which China strongly criticised. Taiwan has been trying to cultivate US political goodwill and overcome its international isolation.

"We won't deny there has been some pressure," says a senior CAL executive, "but there has been pressure from all directions and our decision was not affected by it."