An Airbus jet in Hamburg, Germany. Picture: REUTERS
An Airbus jet in Hamburg, Germany. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing/London — Airbus has sent a high-powered delegation to China seeking to firm up a potential $18bn jet order, according to people familiar with the matter, in a deal that would underscore the Asian nation’s ability to ride out a trade war with the US.

The possible order for about 180 A320 Neo narrow-body jets, first touted in January, will be discussed during the trip this week that includes Airbus CEO Tom Enders and commercial aircraft president Guillaume Faury, said the people, who asked not to be named as the talks are not public.

The executives are also in China to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Airbus’s first Chinese assembly line and the opening of a helicopter plant. Airbus said it does not comment on the travel plans of management or confidential discussions with customers. The CAAC, China’s aviation regulator, said on Wednesday it had met with Faury, without elaborating on the context.

While a final agreement may not be reached, Chinese President Xi Jinping is keen to parade the purchase at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai from November 5, where a series of deals demonstrating the nation’s role in global trade are expected to be announced, according to the people. The order could also take centre stage at the Zhuhai air show in southern China, which starts a day later.

China has become a battleground for Airbus and Boeing as the manufacturing titans seek to dominate in an aviation market expected to become the world’s biggest early next decade. The A320 deal has twice failed to materialise during visits to Beijing by French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

China has fired warning shots at Boeing in its trade dispute with President Donald Trump, threatening a 25% tariff on imports of 737 narrow-bodies that are nearing the end of their production run. The duties, which have not been finalised, would stop short of impacting the US company’s upgraded 737 Max series.

The visit also presents an opportunity for Airbus’s new sales chief Christian Scherer to meet with key Chinese figures after his appointment less than two weeks ago, the people said.