BEIJING/SYDNEY, July 1 (Reuters) - China's "Big Three" state
airlines pledged on Friday to buy a total of almost 300 Airbus
jets, the biggest order by Chinese carriers since the start of
the COVID-19 pandemic and a breakthrough for Europe as Boeing
remains partially frozen out of China.
In apparently coordinated announcements, Air China
and China Southern Airlines said they
would each buy 96 A320neo-family jets worth $12.2 billion at
list prices. China Eastern Airlines said it would
buy 100 airplanes of the same type, worth $12.8 billion.
Airlines typically receive substantial discounts to list
prices and China Eastern said these were larger than usual.
China's huge market accounts for a quarter of Airbus and
Boeing deliveries in a normal year. But China has largely stood
back from the global jet market as it juggled both the impact of
COVID-19 and protracted trade tensions with the United States.
Industry sources said Beijing broadly balances jet purchases
between Europe and the United States over time, with such large
deals typically held in reserve for state visits.
But Friday's deal signalled a visible step towards Beijing's
European supplier, they said. Until now, global trade and
diplomatic tensions have broadly had the effect of delaying
politically sensitive import decisions across the board.
Boeing reacted sharply to the announcement, unusually
crediting "constructive dialogue" between European governments
and Beijing for the blockbuster order and urging the U.S. and
Chinese governments to engage in productive discussions.
"As a top U.S. exporter with a 50-year relationship with
Chinas aviation industry, it is disappointing that geopolitical
differences continue to constrain U.S. aircraft exports," Boeing
said in an emailed statement.
"Boeing aircraft sales to China historically support tens of
thousands of American jobs, and we are hopeful orders and
deliveries will resume promptly."
Boeing's 737 MAX has yet to resume commercial flights in
China, even though the country joined other regulators late last
year in lifting a grounding order imposed during a safety
So far this year, Boeing has delivered only one commercial
jet to China against 47 for Airbus. It has about 150 airplanes
waiting to be delivered to China, according to some estimates.
Airbus painted the win as a purely commercial victory,
saying it demonstrated "strong confidence in Airbus". In a
statement, it said the deal followed "long and extensive
discussions" but did not mention any diplomatic support.
One diplomatic source played down any political involvement
but noted challenges in ramping up output to deliver such a
large number of planes while global supply chain problems
The deal is subject to Chinese government approvals.
Airbus shares rose more than 3%. Boeing rose around
1,3% after slipping in pre-market trading.
China's airline industry, which took a heavy hit after
authorities locked down Shanghai in April, has been steadily
recovering in recent weeks.
China Eastern said the new narrowbody jets would be mostly
deployed on domestic routes and on flights to neighbouring
Deliveries will run from 2023 to 2027, with the bulk
expected from 2024. Air China said its purchase would represent
a 10.4% increase, while China Southern expects a 13% increase.
China Eastern has been roiled by the crash of a Boeing
737-800 jet in March, killing 132 people on board. Investigators
are examining the actions of the crew, with no evidence found of
a technical malfunction, people briefed on the matter have said.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney,
Additional reporting by Tim Hepher
Editing by David Evans, Mark Potter and Grant McCool)