The US manufacturer is redesignating the new aircraft as part of its biggest deal with the mainland Boeing has sealed its biggest deal in China, with the country's purchasing agent agreeing to buy 60 of the futuristic Dreamliner aircraft, which will be distributed among six mainland airlines. The new fleet of B7E7s, worth US$7.2 billion based on list prices, was bought by the state-owned China Aviation Supply Co (CASC) for Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and Hainan Airlines, according to people with inside knowledge of the deal. After the perfunctory discounts for such a large purchase, analysts say the deal is probably worth closer to US$4.2 billion. Nonetheless, it represents the largest deal in terms of units and value Boeing has secured in China. 'The aim is to have all six of the mainland airlines operating a B7E7 in time for the Olympic Games in Beijing,' said a mainland airline executive. 'Boeing has indicated they will be changing the number of the model to the B787, because the number 8 is auspicious in China.' The number eight is considered by the Chinese to be lucky because its pronunciation, 'ba', is close to 'fa' in Mandarin, which means rich. The same logic was used in selecting 08-08-2008 as the day on which to open the Olympic Games. 'They are being fitted into the delivery stream so that [mainland airlines] receive the aircraft before the Olympics,' a United States-based Boeing executive said yesterday, on condition of anonymity. The deal has revived competition in the mid-sized aircraft market, which had turned decidedly in favour of European manufacturer Airbus in the past few years. The popularity of its A330 model, which has a range of 11,800km, has severely dented demand for Boeing's 767, prompting the Chicago-based manufacturer to develop its Dreamliner. The B7E7, which has 220-300 seats, is available in three configurations, with a maximum range of 15,700km. Boeing management said 13 months ago, at the B7E7 concept roll-out, that it would offer 'up to 30 per cent less fuel burn per seat' than the A330-300. However, after launching eight months ago, sales for the B7E7 have failed to reach the company's target of 200 units by this month so the Chinese deal will have been warmly received in the Windy City. Boeing now has 186 'orders or commitments' for the B7E7, 50 of which were placed by Japan's All Nippon Airways, the launch customer. The deal is seen by a local transport analyst as a large step for the smaller airlines because the B7E7 will provide them with their longest ever range. 'For Xiamen and Hainan, it is a bit of a quantum leap,' he said. Shanghai-listed Hainan Airlines is expected to announce the deal on the city's exchange today. 'We have always had a goal of tapping into the international markets,' a Hakou-based spokesman for the carrier said yesterday. It is understood that some of the deal's terms - such as how many units will go to which airlines, which versions of the B7E7 will be ordered and full delivery dates - have yet to be ironed out. 'It is too early to say what international destinations we will target as the aircraft will not be delivered until 2008,' said a Shanghai Airlines executive. At the request of the China delegation, the order will be formally announced today in Washington by US Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services Al Frink and CASC president Li Hai, highlighting the deal's political undertones, according to the local analyst. 'In the overall scheme of things, 10 B7E7s in the fleets of China's big three carriers will not have a significant impact, suggesting politics was as important as fleet economics,' he said. The deal follows Air China's confirmation on Thursday of an estimated US$1.7 billion deal for 20 A330s from rival Airbus. 'The economic benefits of fleet commonality appear to have taken a back seat,' the analyst said.