There are growing indications that China might finally sign a $1 billion deal with Boeing for ten 777-200/300s during US Vice-President Al Gore's trip to the country in the last week of March. Airbus Industrie is also pushing to conclude a deal for up to 75 A320 family aircraft during French President Chirac's visit to China in May.

Gore is scheduled to visit China during a three-nation tour of Asia, and is reportedly willing to witness the deal being signed. Beijing is keen to capitalise upon Air China's planned 777 purchase to cement improving ties with Washington.

Boeing's deal with Air China has been repeatedly delayed by a succession of political and trade disputes between the US and China.

The overall deal is understood to cover firm orders for up to ten aircraft for delivery from 1998 onwards, with options on a further five twinjets (Flight International, 5-11 February). The final number is still subject to approval and, as with Air China's earlier purchase of five 747-400s, could be divided into two separate orders.

The US manufacturer is also keen to supply up to 20 new Boeing 737-800s to Air China, but it is unclear whether this and another pending deal to sell Hainan Airlines three 737-800s, four -400s and three 767s, will be included in the 777 announcement.

It faces strong competition from Airbus, which is pushing for China to order a second batch of A320s to supplement 30 ordered in 1996. According to industry sources in Beijing, the European consortium is proposing to China Aviation Supplies a broad package of up 75 A319/A320/A321s.

This number is likely to be scaled back to around 30 aircraft for a mix of Chinese carriers. China Northwest is seeking another eight A320s, in addition to ten ordered in 1996 and China Southern is looking for larger A321s to complement its 17 A320s.

Source: Flight International