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* Airbus CEO urged China to unblock orders trapped by EU row
* In letter, Airbus says fully supports China over emissions
* First plane tentatively due for mid-2013 delivery
* Air China, Hainan, China Southern/Eastern orders affected
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, May 13 China's decision to ease a
boycott of some $11 billion in Airbus jet orders followed a
high-level appeal from the planemaker urging Beijing to
recognise its support over a trade row with Europe, a letter
seen by Reuters shows.
It gives a glimpse into the intensity of the lobbying in the
dispute, which helped persuade the European Union to freeze a
law on regulating international aviation emissions.
China partly lifted a blockade on 45 long-haul A330 jet
orders during a visit by French President Francois Hollande last
Behind the scenes, Airbus claimed partial credit for the EU
climb-down and cheered what its chief executive described to
Beijing as "joint efforts" to limit damage to Chinese airlines.
Writing to China's top aviation official shortly after the
EU back-pedalled on its Emissions Trading Scheme last November,
Fabrice Bregier said Airbus had been "very active" in
supporting China's preference for a broader global system.
"Through our joint efforts, we have managed to ensure that
Chinese airlines are not unfairly impacted by the scheme as
previously planned," Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier said.
"I hope we at Airbus have been able to clearly demonstrate
our strong support to Chinese aviation."
Airbus, which also got backing from European leaders, says
the blocked orders alone put 2,000 jobs at risk.
"Since I became president of Airbus in June (2012), I have
made this issue one of the top priorities for the company,"
Bregier wrote to Li Jiaxiang, the government official in charge
of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
A spokesman for Airbus declined to comment on the letter but
reiterated that the company, a subsidiary of EADS,
welcomed the EU's decision to pause the scheme for a year.
Bregier signed the two-page letter on Nov. 16, four days
after EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard agreed to "stop
the clock" for a year on plans to make all airlines using EU
airports pay for their emissions through a trading scheme.
The proposal unleashed a volley of international criticism
and China - which viewed it as a breach of sovereignty - froze
orders for aircraft worth up to $230 million each.
Bregier urged China to respond to the European Union's
decision by swiftly granting approvals for all 45 aircraft.
While Beijing approved 18 orders worth $4 billion, more
valuable deals remain on hold as China awaits the outcome of
international talks on the problem of managing borderless
emissions without infringing sovereignty.
PRESSURE TO ORDER PARTS
Bregier's letter sheds light on frantic efforts to unblock
the orders as Airbus reached the deadline for ordering parts for
the jets. According to his letter, the first aircraft was
tentatively scheduled to be delivered in the summer of 2013.
Industry sources say a golden rule of the aerospace industry
is that planes are never built without a firm order and deposit.
However, the schedule suggests Airbus may have been willing
to show some flexibility, given China's role as the world's
fastest-growing aviation market and a strategic trade partner.
Longest-lead-time components are ordered around a year in
advance, meaning that if the planes are indeed to be delivered
this summer, some parts would have been ordered last year.
The letter also gives the first available breakdown of the
A330 orders, details of which have mostly been kept secret
pending final approval from the Chinese government.
They include 10 aircraft for Air China, 10 for
Hainan Airlines, 10 for China Southern
and 15 for China Eastern. The letter said first
deliveries were tentatively scheduled for mid-2013.
Airbus has not said which of these are included in the
approvals for 18 aircraft announced on April 25.
It is not the first time high-profile plane orders have
become swept up in trade tensions between China and Europe or
the United States, home to Airbus's arch-rival Boeing.
Supported by India and the United States, China objected to
the EU airlines plan on the grounds that it based charges on the
whole trip, including China's jealously protected airspace.
The European Union says it was forced to act after more than
a decade of inaction by the international community.
For internal EU flights the EU scheme remains in place and
the European Union says it will re-impose the scheme for all
flights using EU airports if global talks do not progress.
In practice, diplomats say that places the onus on the
United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization to
reach a breakthrough during its general assembly from Sept. 24.
The absence of a deal would raise the prospect of further
deadlock over Airbus orders.
Aviation executives are expected to tackle the issue on
Monday in Montreal, home to ICAO, where they are attending an
Airbus-sponsored environment workshop.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Louise Heavens)