Decision will show if recent political problems are hindering Boeing's chances of receiving business from China

Airbus and Boeing are stepping up their lobbying efforts in China as Beijing prepares to finalise orders and options for up to 110 narrowbodies. Industry is expecting an announcement possibly as early as the Aviation Expo/China 2001 show in Beijing in mid-September.


Industry sources say Beijing is likely to approve firm orders for around 60 aircraft, split evenly between the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, plus 40-50 options. Both types are already operated in China, and Chengdu-based China Southwest Airlines recently become the country's first 737-600 operator with the delivery of the first of three on lease.

The Boeing and Airbus purchases are being made in line with the Chinese Government's stated requirement for 400 aircraft - including regional airliners and widebodies - to be delivered between the beginning of this year and the end of 2005.

The manufacturers are hoping for a decision as soon as possible so that they can begin allocating scarce delivery slots. Boeing is banking on being able to add a major Chinese deal to its flagging order book this year despite concerns that recent political tensions between Beijing and Washington could harm its sales prospects.

The US company's chairman and chief executive Phil Condit recently told analysts there are "a bunch of orders [from China] that are in the political rounds". He expects 30-40 to materialise this year.

The size of Boeing's share of the order will be a key indication of whether Beijing intends to follow through on threats voiced after the 1 April collision between a US intelligence gathering aircraft and a Chinese fighter off Hainan Island. Official media reported weeks later that Airbus could expect "tremendous business opportunities in China" and that the tensions would "take their toll on Boeing".

China is also expected to finalise a contract for around five Tupolev Tu-204s. Initial discussions were for as many as 30, but this has been cut back after most of the country's airlines indicated they did not want them. The aircraft could be operated as freighters by the country's postal service or air force.

Source: Flight International