China was reportedly close to making its first firm order for the European Airbus A380 double-decker superjumbo.
The body overseeing Chinese aircraft imports and financing, China Aviation Supplies Import and Export Group, said that regulators and airlines had reached a preliminary agreement on the purchase.
Neither the airlines involved nor the exact number of aircraft in the sale was disclosed.
As China Economic Review reported (December '04), Airbus has been attentively courting Chinese airlines in a bid to secure a foothold for its new baby in the world's fastest growing aviation market.
The company is marketing the aircraft as a vital addition to increasingly popular trunk domestic routes, such as between Beijing and Shanghai, and is also keen to stress the value of having the aircraft in service in time to bring athletes and visitors to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.
French news agency Agence France- Presse reported that at least five A380s were on the order sheet valued in the region of US$1.4bn.
However, the agency said a final formal agreement was being held up for political reasons, among them the European Union's longstanding ban on selling military equipment to China imposed in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Both Germany and France, key members of the Airbus consortium, have called for a speedy end to the embargo. However, several other members, under pressure from the United States, have said the time is not right to lift it.