At least five Chinese carriers are expected to be allocated as many as 40 Boeing 737-700/800s due to be ordered by their government in the coming months.

Industry sources in China say Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines have all requested approval to order 737s, and most should be approved by the country's leadership in the coming weeks.

The industry sources say a late-July visit to China by US Secretary of State Colin Powell helped lay the groundwork for a multi-billion dollar deal. Boeing declined to comment.

Air China has already secured final approval to buy six 737-700s and four –800s, the sources say, in return for Boeing acquiring two of its 747-400s.

The manufacturer has already listed the 747s on its aircraft trading website.

The Air China deal is the first to make it completely through the Chinese Government's complicated aircraft ordering process.

According to the sources, most or all of the other potential deals have already won State Development Planning Commission (SPDC) backing but more approvals are required.

A package deal for between 20 and 40 737s is expected to be announced as early as next month at a trade show in Beijing, but most likely during a visit by US President George W Bush in October.

The Chinese Government is also expected to award Airbus a similar-sized order for A320 family aircraft, although it is so far unclear how far these tentative deals have progressed through the approvals process.

Potential deals have in the past made it as far as the State Council only to be rejected, but most expect the 737 purchases, as well as deals for A320 family aircraft, to go ahead.

China is seeking to improve relations with Western countries after winning the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

Source: Flight International