Air China To Purchase 20 More Airbus A350 Aircraft

China’s flag-carrying airline, Air China, has announced plans to buy a further 20 A350-900s from Airbus, in an order valued at more than $6.5bn at list prices. Announced today, the order will take Air China’s commitment for the A350 to 30 planes in total.

Air China A350
Air China boost A350 order. Photo: Facebook/Air China

Air China already operates a fleet of 10 A350-900s and is clearly enjoying the experience as is demonstrated by this new commitment. According to Reuters, the final five of the jets come with the option to swap them out for the larger A350-1000.

Simple Flying reached out to Airbus for clarity on the status of the order, who confirmed it is a new, firm order for 20 additional A350 aircraft. This takes Air China’s total fleet of the type to 30 aircraft when delivered.

Air China’s A350s

Air China is expecting its latest order of A350s to begin delivering in 2020, running through to 2022. Their current fleet of 10 feature a three-class layout, including 32 reverse herringbone business class seats.

China is one of the few places in the world to frequently use widebody aircraft on domestic routes. Right now, Air China is already deploying the A350 on routes to Chengdu, Guangzhou and between Shanghai and Beijing. As well as this, they fly to London Heathrow, Milan Malpensa, Singapore, Frankfurt and Munich. It’s not clear at this time whether the new A350s will be used domestically or to add new international routes.

Air China A350 Expo livery
One of Air China’s A350s in Expo 2019 livery. Photo: Air China

China, as a whole, is a huge growth market for aviation. It is predicted that the nation will have the largest domestic market in the world by 2028, requiring an estimated 200 new airports to handle the traffic.

As such, China is going to need some new planes. Correction; a LOT of new planes. Right now, Boeing is the leading manufacturer supply the market and is estimated to add around $1bn a year to the Chinese economy as a result, according to CNBC. In December last year, they celebrated the delivery of their 2,000th plane to China. But, could their grip on the Far East be slipping?

Is Airbus stealing China from Boeing?

Airbus has already taken bold steps to make its presence felt in China. Last October they flew a delegation out to meet and greet a number of airlines, including triple decade Boeing only customer, Xiamen Air. Their existing plant in Tianjin, opened over a decade ago, was recently mooted for building their A330neo at the same plant.

The Airbus Final Assembly Line in Tianjin. Photo: Airbus

Clearly, the European planemaker is keen to demonstrate its commitment to the Chinese market to grab a slice of the 7,400 aircraft they estimate the nation to need over the coming two decades.

At Paris Air Show this year, Airbus secured an order for 11 A321neos from China Airlines, plus the carrier has agreed to lease another 14. This was snatched from under the nose of Boeing, who was thought to be a shoo-in for the medium-haul fleet renewal at the carrier.

Just last month, China Southern took delivery of their first A350-900, the first of 20 they have on order from Airbus. Again, Boeing likely thought that the 787 would have been a perfect fit for this market.

Air China A350 paintshop
Air China’s first Airbus A350 in the paint shop. Photo: Air China / Facebook

Today’s latest order marks yet another twist of the knife for the US planemaker, as Air China make clear their intention to rely on Airbus for their long haul fleet. However, with international relations the way they are, the situation looks to remain unfavorable to Boeing for the foreseeable.

Impact of the trade war

Trump’s trade war with China is only hurting Boeing’s potential to solidify their presence in this growing market. With tit for tat trade tariffs being bounced between the two countries, Boeing must be feeling increasingly nervous about their potential market share slowly slipping out of its grasp.

Last month, negotiations for a 100 plane widebody order were placed in jeopardy, thanks to tensions escalating between Washington and Beijing. Boeing previously stated they pegged Chinese demand for aircraft to be worth $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years. Now, they could be losing a large proportion of that to Airbus, as the trade war shows no signs of abating.

President Trump Talks Trade with the Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China, Liu He
President Trump and Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Liu He in 2018. Photo: Wikimedia

In the US, this is starting to become a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face. Boeing could do without the additional headache of tensions in China right now, considering all the other issues it has going on. But Trump appears relentless, even being reported by Reuters to see his stance against Beijing as a ‘strength’ in the 2020 election.

For Airbus, the opportunity to do more business in China has not been missed. This latest order for A350s just goes to prove that China is serious about looking outside of US-made planes while tensions with the White House rage on.