China has signed a deal worth tens of billions of dollars to buy 300 Airbus planes, matching a record Chinese order made to US rival Boeing.
The deal between Airbus and China’s state buying agency, China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, is for 290 A320-family jets and 10 A350 wide-body jets.
French officials said the deal was worth 30 billion euros ($A48 billion) at catalogue prices. However, plane makers usually grant significant discounts.
The larger-than-expected order coincides with a visit to Europe by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and matches one for 300 Boeing planes that came when US Donald Trump visited Beijing in 2017.
It also follows a year without significant orders from China – and comes as the grounding of Boeing’s troubled 737 Max has left uncertainty over the Seattle manufacturer’s hopes for a major jet order as proof of any warming of US-China trade ties.
There was no evidence of any direct connection between the Airbus deal and Chinese-US tensions or Boeing fleet problems. But China watchers say Beijing has a history of sending diplomatic signals or playing off suppliers through state aircraft deals.
“The conclusion of a big [aviation] contract … is an important step forward and an excellent signal in the current context,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a joint address with Mr Xi.
— Airbus PRESS (@AirbusPRESS) March 25, 2019
The US and China are edging towards a possible deal to ease a months-long tariff row. Until recently, a deal involving up to 300 Boeing jets had been expected as part of that.
China was also the first to ground the newest version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 model earlier this month, following deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. That led to regulatory actions worldwide and, ultimately, the global grounding of the entire Max fleet.
Boeing has begun briefing airlines on software and training updates for its Max fleet. More than 200 pilots, technical experts and regulators are due in Washington, where the plane is built, this week.
The sessions follow a briefing with carriers, including three US airlines, on Saturday, part of Boeing’s effort “to communicate with all current, and many future, Max customers and operators”, a Boeing spokeswoman said.
Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam has said the leading African airline may or may not attend the briefing.
Lion Air managing director Daniel Putut said his airline would send a pilot and an engineer.
The crash of the Indonesian Lion Air flight last October killed 189 people and first brought the safety of the 737 Max into focus.