Air China has announced a firm order for five passenger versions of the 747-8, giving the programme a major shot in the arm from an important market segment.
China's flag carrier is the first mainland airline to sign up for the General Electric GEnx-2B-powered 747-8 Intercontinental, although the deal has to be approved by the government.
"Air China has been operating 747s since the 1980s," says He Li, vice-president of Air China. "The new high capacity Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental will deliver exceptional economics and a great flying experience to our customers."
He adds that the carrier hopes to take delivery of the aircraft within the next three years. "We need this aircraft to expand our international routes," he says.
China, with its fast growing air transport market, has been identified as a major battle ground between Boeing and Airbus, especially in the large aircraft segment where the 747-8I is up against the A380. The only order for the A380 from the mainland has been from Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, which will receive the first of five this year.
"This order is a real help in spreading the word about the 747-8 Intercontinental," says Marlin Dailey, vice-president of sales and marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We feel the aircraft will do really well in China, both the passenger and freighter variants."
Beijing-based Air China, however, has not closed the door to the A380. "We are still thinking about it, in fact we are thinking about it every day. We have not ruled it out just because we have ordered the 747-8I," says He.