China's Premier Wen Jiabao will urge Airbus to give more parts contracts to Chinese manufacturers when he visits the jet maker's head office...

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China’s Premier Wen Jiabao will urge Airbus to give more parts contracts to Chinese manufacturers when he visits the jet maker’s head office next week, a foreign-ministry spokesman said.

Wen will visit Airbus’ office in Toulouse, France, with up to 100 people, including Chinese airline executives, as part of his four-nation European tour, said Zhao Jun, director-general of European affairs of the Chinese foreign ministry.

“China will definitely be buying more planes, including from Airbus, in [the] future, if not” during Wen’s visit, he said at a news briefing Wednesday in Beijing, declining to say if China’s state-owned aircraft-buying agency will sign a purchase order next week.

China may place an order for Airbus A320 planes during Wen’s visit to France, The Wall Street Journal said Wednesday, citing an airline executive. The size of the Airbus order and its value weren’t specified in the report, which didn’t identify the executive.

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Airbus has recorded orders for 66 planes this year in China valued at $8.3 billion, compared with 122 aircraft valued at $11.7 billion by Boeing.

Tanker bids expected

in ’07, Air Force says

Competition for the contract to build an aerial refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force likely won’t start until 2007 because the service wants a plane that can carry cargo, reconnaissance sensors and troops in addition to fuel, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said Wednesday. “I think 2006 is still going to be a development year,” Wynne said in his Pentagon office.

Boeing and European Aeronautic Defense & Space (EADS) have announced plans to compete for the tanker contract. Northrop Grumman would team up with EADS on the bid.

An earlier $23 billion program to replace the aging tanker fleet with leased Boeing 767s was canceled in October 2004 after the Air Force’s No. 2 procurement official and Boeing’s former chief financial officer were convicted of violating conflict-of-interest laws during contract talks.

Bloomberg News

Pentagon may end

airborne laser project

The White House has asked the Pentagon to consider ending a $5 billion drive to equip a Boeing 747 aircraft to zap ballistic missiles as part of budget belt-tightening for the coming year, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The White House budget office termed the Airborne Laser a “high-risk” program and candidate for termination in what would be a shake-up of the $9 billion-a-year effort to construct a shield against incoming warheads, the officials said.

Boeing said it was unaware the laser program might be at risk and said it was confident it would remain intact. “In this era of constrained budgets, it’s reasonable to assume most programs will be examined,” said Maria McCullough, a Boeing spokeswoman.

Reuters