Air China ordered five of Boeing's revamped 747-8I 'Intercontinental' jumbo jet today, becoming the third airline to order Boeing's largest plane and its main competition to the Airbus A380 superjumbo.
It looks like Boeing's strategy of painting the airliner red -- an auspicious colour in China -- and putting Chinese lucky number 8 on its tail has paid off. Only official approval from the Chinese government (usually a rubber stamp process) remains in the process of making the order complete.
Based in Beijing, Air China is the People's Republic official flag carrier and the world's tenth largest airline, although it has fewer aircraft and carries fewer passengers than larger Chinese airlines China Southern (based in Guangzhou) and China Eastern (based in Shanghai).
Boeing will be thrilled that the 747-8I has won out over Airbus' A380 -- picked by China Southern for its largest routes. China Eastern has yet to decide on an aircraft for the high capacity end of its fleet.
Only Lufthansa and Korean Air had previously ordered Boeing's updated 747, which comes with a stretched body, new engines, and a revamped wing.
The engines, with their trademark scalloped edges, are a variant of the power behind Boeing's smaller and much-delayed 787 Dreamliner.
Air China already has 19 of Boeing's stretched 777-300ER aircraft on order, which will be delivered from September 2011, and which will replace older Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft.
In Australia, Air China flies to Melbourne and Sydney from Beijing, and these flights could well be slated to receive the larger 747-8I once it arrives, given a new agreement between the Australian and People's Republic of China governments.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese announced the memorandum of understanding with Chinese authorities this morning, which outlines an increase of over 50% in the number of seats available between Australia and the PRC in the next year.