Four Chinese airline companies have agreed to buy 42 Boeing 787 jets for a total $5.04 billion, the official Xinhua News Agency reported...

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SHANGHAI, China — Four Chinese airline companies have agreed to buy 42 Boeing 787 jets for a total $5.04 billion, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

China’s flag carrier Air China and China Eastern Airlines will each buy 15 planes, Shanghai Airlines will buy nine planes, and Xiamen Airline will buy three planes, the report said.

The purchases precede an expected visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States in September and are a coup for Chicago-based Boeing over European archrival Airbus.

In January, six Chinese airlines signed an agreement with Boeing to order 60 of its new fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliners for $7.2 billion.

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Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the company was still negotiating with Hainana Airlines and China Southern Airlines, which were part of the previous agreement to order 60 787s. “We have every intent of getting there with the two airlines,” Leach said.

Xiamen Air is 60 percent owned by China Southern Airlines, which along with Xiamen Air also signed a contract in April to buy 45 Boeing 737s.

Boeing has said the 787s will be priced at between $125 million to $135 million each, though airlines usually negotiate discounts for large orders. The 787 Dreamliner, which is to go into service in 2008, competes with the A350 Airbus is developing.

To date, Boeing has received 185 firm orders and 91 additional commitments for the long-range 787.

Both Boeing and Airbus have boosted sales efforts in China, where airlines have made a series of major aircraft purchases in recent years as they build up fleets.

Boeing says it expects China’s airlines to spend $183 billion on aircraft over the next two decades as its 1.3 billion increasingly prosperous citizens take to air travel.