China Eastern Airlines is poised to order five Airbus A340-500/-600s and has begun talks with manufacturers on a possible regional jet order.

Industry sources in China tell Flight International's sister on-line news service Air Transport Intelligence that the Chinese Government's State Planning and Development Committee granted approval for the Airbus purchase in May, after go-ahead from the Civil Aviation Administration of China. China Eastern is close to finalising an order from Airbus for deliveries between 2003 and 2005.

The sources say the airline plans to take most of the five as stretched A340-600s, although a decision depends on the results of a route study. The airline is considering establishing a second US hub in an East Coast city, possibly New York, which would require the additional range offered by the A340-500.

Airbus confirms talks with China Eastern on an order for these types, but declines further comment.

The airline is also understood to be in talks with Bombardier, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier on a regional jet order for domestic routes in eastern China. China Eastern is interested in building a feeder operation and began to develop the market with the wet lease in June of two ATR 72s from China Xinjiang Airlines.

All three regional aircraft manufacturers have secured sales in China, with Bombardier selling Canadair CRJ200s to Shandong Airlines, Fairchild Dornier winning a 328JET order from Hainan Airlines and Embraer recently signing a letter of intent with Sichuan Airlines for five ERJ-145s.

China Eastern agreed last year to lease four A340-600s from International Lease Finance and to buy four more A340-500s from Airbus. This plan was suspended when the Chinese Government imposed a new tax on operating leases. Airline pressure is forcing the government to reconsider the tax, say the sources.

Source: Flight International