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BEIJING/SYDNEY: China Southern Airlines said on Friday it would buy 96 Airbus A320neo jets in the biggest plane order by a Chinese airline since the start of the COVID pandemic and in a major boost to the European planemaker in the Chinese market.

The airline said in a stock filing that the order was worth $12.25 billion, based on list prices. Major airlines typically receive substantial discounts to list prices.

Deliveries would take place from 2024 to 2027, with 30 jets expected in 2024, 40 in 2025, 19 in 2026 and 7 in 2027. That would represent a 13% increase in terms of capacity measured by available tonne kilometres (ATK), the airline said.

“The board believes that the aircraft purchase this time is in line with the fleet strategy laid out in the company’s 14th five-year plan,” said the airline, adding that it would help with company’s competitiveness.

Airbus confirmed the order but declined to comment further.

EasyJet exercises option to buy 56 Airbus A320neo jets

China Southern Airlines, the country’s largest carrier based on passenger numbers, is a top Boeing customer with 103 Boeing 737 MAX jets to be delivered in the next three years, based on fleet plans in its annual report.

It currently has 24 Boeing 737 MAX planes in its fleet, the most in the country.

The 737 MAX, Boeing’s workhorse model, has yet to resume commercial flights in the country, even though airlines have been making test flights after China’s aviation regulator lifted a grounding order late last year.

China is also in the process of certifying its home-grown narrow-body C919 aircraft, which is expected to receive the Chinese certification by the end of this year.

China’s airline industry, which took a heavy hit after authorities locked down the mega city of Shanghai in April, has been steadily recovering in recent weeks.

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