China’s flagship carrier, Air China, has announced it entered into a purchase agreement with Airbus to buy 20 A350-900 aircraft, boosting the European plane maker’s order book for wide-body aircraft. The deal, inked on July 11, 2019, is worth $6.54 billion.

According to the transaction purchase agreement, released by Air China on July 12, 2019, the carrier will buy 20 A350-900 jets for a total sum of about $6,54 billion (approx. HK$50,989 million) at current list prices. The company also reserves the right to switch five A350-900s to the larger A350-1000 model. Deliveries of the airliners are scheduled from 2020 to 2022.

According to Air China, the purchase “will expand the overall fleet capacity of the Group and optimize its fleet structure”. As of end of July 2019, the national carrier had a total of 225 Airbus aircraft in its fleet. Out of these, 10 were A350-900s, as Airbus’ orders and deliveries book shows.

Air China took delivery of its first A350-900 in August 2018, becoming the first Chinese mainland carrier to order and take ownership of the wide-body aircraft. The airline also operates single-aisle A319, A320, and A321 models, as well as, A330 wide-bodies. As for its Boeing fleet, Air China operates 737 (none of them of the MAX type) narrow-bodies, as well as 747, 777, and 787 wide-body jetliners.

The latest transaction between China’s national carrier and Airbus comes during ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute. Last month, as reported by Bloomberg, Boeing was in the midst of negotiations with Chinese airliners “for one of the largest orders ever of wide-body jetliners”, potentially centered on 100 twin-aisle jets, including the 787 Dreamliners and the much anticipated 777X. No such deal has yet been finalized.

It may be the case that Air China has decided to opt for Airbus long-haul jetliners instead. When talking about Chinese carriers, Airbus delivered the first of 20 ordered A350-900 jets to China Southern Airlines in June 2019. Airbus also secured an order for 11 A321neos for China Airlines, with additional 14 for lease, at the Paris Air Show.

Overall, the A350 XWB Family of jetliners have gained a lot of momentum. In its second quarter of 2019 (April-June) results, Airbus has delivered 227 aircraft: most of these were A320neos and A321neos, but also, the A350-900. At the end of June 2019, the A350 XWB Family, comprising of the two models, had received 893 firm orders from 51 customers worldwide.

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Both Airbus and Boeing are due to release their financial results for the first half (H1) of 2019 in the upcoming weeks. Ahead of that, numbers of planes delivered and orders gained are already known. 
 

Although Air China’s order certainly helps Airbus to narrow the gap in global orders for wide-body aircraft compared to Boeing, the U.S. plane maker is still winning the score. Boeing gathered a total of 61 orders for wide-body airliners in the first half of 2019, excluding IAG’s expressed intention for 200 737 MAX planes, whereas Airbus stands at 43 orders. The European plane maker received more cancellations than orders for twin-aisle jets in 2019 so far.

The Airbus A350-900 is a long-range wide-body airliner with a maximum range of 8,100 nm (15,000 km) and capacity of 300 to 350 seats in a standard three-class configuration. Air China’s A350-900s, which are utilized on both domestic and international flights, are equipped with 312 seats in a three-class configuration.

The A350-900 entered into commercial service in 2015 with Qatar Airways; its extended fuselage ‘brother’, the A350-1000, began operations in 2018 with the same airline.