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China Signals Wait-and-see Stance On Big Jet Orders

An Airbus A320neo ‘quiet jet’ comes in to land at the ILA Berlin Air Show in Schoenefeld, south of Berlin, Germany, June 4, 2016.

China and France will study the need for cargo planes and long-haul jets “in due course,” a joint statement said on Friday, following a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The comments suggest a more muted stance on the prospect for significant orders of large Airbus jets compared with the planemaker’s best-selling A320neo medium-haul model, for which it is doubling production capacity in China.

“The two countries will in due course study the freight and long-haul needs of Chinese airlines, depending on the recovery and development of China’s air transport market and fleet,” the statement wrapping up Macron’s visit to Beijing said.

It also welcomed an agreement giving delivery clearance for 150 A320neo and 10 A350 jets that Airbus had already sold to China. No new airplane orders were announced during the visit.

Airbus is marketing a freighter version of its A350 jet and is keen to sell more wide-body passenger jets to China. It opened an A350 completion centre there in 2021.

While domestic traffic has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels after extended COVID-19 lockdowns, international traffic is at about 30% of 2019 levels.

Rival Boeing had been expected to secure a large order for its wide-body 787 before a chill in Sino-U.S. relations left the planemaker partially frozen out of China.

With international demand still behind the rebound in domestic flying, analysts have said airlines have time to wait for an eventual detente and ensure maximum competition before making major long-haul fleet choices.

The statement also said European and Chinese regulators would accelerate certification involving the Airbus H175 helicopter, Dassault Aviation 8X business jet and Harbin Y12F turboprop.

The H175 was co-developed by Airbus Helicopters and Chinese aerospace conglomerate AVIC and is often used for ambulance or police service. The Chinese version is certified in the country but the French-produced one has yet to win the Chinese safety approval needed before it can be exported to China.

Airbus Helicopters, the world’s largest civil helicopter maker, separately announced a major deal for its new multi-mission H160 with the sale of 50 units to Chinese lessor GDAT.

The deal was signed during Macron’s visit and is the biggest since the helicopter, which is designed for missions like oil and gas or servicing wind farms, was launched in 2015.