WASHINGTON — Six Chinese airlines signed an agreement with The Boeing Co. Friday to order 60 of its new fuel-efficient 7E7 jetliners in a deal that Boeing hopes will boost orders for the plane worldwide.
The $7.2 billion agreement is the largest firm order to date for the much-hyped plane, which Boeing renamed Friday as the 787 Dreamliner.
The new plane, which will be able to fly nonstop to China from a host of U.S. cities, will be delivered in time for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Boeing and Chinese officials said.
At a signing ceremony at the Commerce Department, U.S. and Chinese officials called the agreement an important milestone in trade relations between the two countries.
China has come under criticism in recent months for a swelling trade gap with the United States. The U.S. trade deficit with China through November was more than $147 billion, the largest trade deficit the United States has with any nation.
The announcement also gives Chicago-based Boeing a boost in its competition with European rival Airbus SAS for business in China, the world’s fastest-growing airplane market.
The intensity of that rivalry was illustrated Friday as China Southern Airlines — one of the six airlines involved in the Boeing deal — signed an order in Paris for five Airbus A380 “superjumbos.” The deal for the 555-seat A380 is worth $1.4 billion at list prices.
Li Hai, president of China Aviation Supply Co., a government agency that oversees China’s airlines, said in Washington that China respects both jet makers.
“We believe both Airbus and Boeing manufacture an excellent aircraft. The fact we are here today … fully shows the confidence of Chinese airlines in Boeing’s product,” he said.
Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, called the Chinese order “a real validation” of the potential market for the 787, and said the order’s progress would be “watched very carefully” by airlines around the world.
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