EUROPEAN manufacturing consortium Airbus Industrie has signed its first agreement with Air China for the airline to operate three long-range A340-300 aircraft. The tripartite contract between Air China, China Aviation Supplies Corp (CASC) and Airbus was signed on February 17 in the Great Hall of the People. Attending the signing ceremony were Premier Li Peng; general director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) Chen Guangyi; Air China president Yin Wenlong; CASC president Ye Yigan and Airbus chief operating officer Volker von Tein. The aircraft were ordered by CASC, which places orders for the majority of aircraft operated by mainland airlines. CASC has also ordered three more A340s, but it was unclear which carrier would operate them. The A340 aircraft are capable of flying non-stop services to North America and Europe. Deliveries of the four-engined jets are due to begin from the second half of next year. The list price for an A340 is about US$120 million. At present four mainland airlines - China Eastern, China Northern, China Northwest and Sichuan Airlines - operate 26 Airbus aircraft, including A300-600Rs, A310s and A320s. China Eastern also has five A340-300s on order, with deliveries due to begin in the second quarter of this year. China Eastern has mandated four banks to arrange a $375 million financing package to fund part of the deal, arranger ABN-Amro Bank Singapore said. A 10-year loan would be used to buy three A340s, the bank said. The transaction was expected to be completed as a club deal between several banks, it said. Paribas, Credit Lyonnais and BNP were also involved in arranging the finance, the bank said.