Airbus Says U.S. Pressure Helped Boeing in China, FT Reports

Airbus SAS lost a Chinese aircraft order to Boeing Co. after the U.S. government used its influence with the Chinese government, the Financial Times reported, citing John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer for customers.

Leahy said that President Barack Obama discussed the deal with Chinese President Hu Jintao during the Chinese leader’s visit to the U.S. in January and that there was a lot of political pressure on the transaction, the report said.

Air China, based in Beijing, yesterday agreed to order five Boeing 747-8 planes. The FT cited an unnamed White House official saying the deal hadn’t been raised during Hu’s visit and that the administration had no knowledge of the order.

Airbus had been trying to sell its A380 superjumbo to the carrier, Leahy said, according to the FT report. It wasn’t clear how the U.S. would be able to press China on the deal, the newspaper said, without elaboration.

Boeing worked with Air China on an analysis of the 747-8 Intercontinental’s performance and how it would meet the carrier’s needs, Miles Kotay, a spokesman for the Chicago-based planemaker, said in an e-mailed reply to Bloomberg News questions today.

“Air China decided the 747-8 is the right airplane at this time for its long-haul needs,” he said. He didn’t comment about Leahy’s remarks reported in the FT.

The airline will continue to observe the A380, Air China Chairman Kong Dong said today in Beijing. The carrier opted for the 747-8 because it already has a large fleet of Boeing 747-400s, he said.