European planemaker Airbus bagged US$14.4 billion (8.9 billion pounds) of orders, outselling U.S. rival Boeing’s US$9.3 billion on the first day of a Paris Air Show where bullish sentiment reigned.
Airbus dominated orders for single-aisle planes, the largest aircraft segment, luring airlines with a more fuel-efficient version of its top-selling A320 family as Boeing waits to decide whether to launch a completely new version of its competing 737 or to upgrade the existing model.
But Boeing outsold Airbus in the market for the more expensive long-haul planes, including for a new version of its most recognizable jetliner, the 747.
“The volume of orders today was large, underscoring the recovery in commercial aerospace,” Alex Hamilton, aerospace analyst and managing director of EarlyBirdCapital, told Reuters at the Air Show.
Airbus believes it has the upper hand with the A320neo, whose more efficient engines save airlines 15 percent in fuel costs, according to the company.
Engine maker Pratt & Whitney Chief Executive David Hess said he expected an “astounding” amount of demand for the A320neo, while the minister responsible for the German civil aerospace industry, Peter Hintze, described it as a “trump card.”
Analysts expect narrow-body planes, the backbone of the fast-growing budget airline market, to be a key battleground for orders between Airbus and Boeing at the biennial air show.
Airbus won orders for 60 narrow-body A320neo planes from the commercial aircraft leasing and financing arm of General Electric and for 30 from Scandinavian airline SAS, totalling US$7.7 billion at list prices.
Air Lease Corp signed a memorandum of understanding for 36 A320neo-family planes, and Qatar Airways also said it hoped to conclude a deal this week to buy A320neo planes.
Boeing conceded it might lose some custom while it ponders the future of its 737. The firm said on Sunday it would decide by year-end whether to upgrade the 737 with new engines from about 2016, as Airbus has done, or build an all-new jet in 2019.
Boeing upstaged Airbus with successes in other plane sizes, notching up US$9.3 billion of orders, including for 17 of the latest version of its legendary 747 from unidentified customers, as well as five 777s and four 787-9 Dreamliners from Air Lease Corp.
Boeing also identified Gulf carrier Qatar Airways as the customer behind a previously revealed order for six 777-300ER wide-body jets worth US$1.7 billion at list prices.
The news came a day after Airbus unveiled plans to boost the range of its future competing A350, for which Qatar is the biggest customer.
Airbus had been left red-faced following a series of mishaps on the eve of the show, including a taxiway collision involving an A380 superjumbo. But it managed to scramble a Korean Air A380 to replace the damaged aircraft in aerial displays at the show.
The initial aircraft was hidden out of sight yesterday as President Nicolas Sarkozy inaugurated the show, and was a source of embarrassment for Airbus only hours after the arrival of its new competitor — Boeing’s elongated 747-8 superjumbo, which is showing its distinctive silhouette abroad for the first time.
The jumbo touched down in orange and red “sunrise” livery symbolising the economic importance of Asia, with the additional orders unveiled yesterday rubbing salt into Airbus’ wounds.
A second Airbus aircraft, the delayed European A400 airlifter, was also initially withdrawn from air display after a gearbox problem.
Despite its setbacks, Airbus is confident of racking up orders for the A320neo, and the air show could bring two record deals in succession if its plans come to fruition.
A US$16 billion provisional deal from IndiGo to buy 180 A320neo passenger jets, first announced in January, could be finalised, although talks may also drag beyond the air show.
If sealed, that would set a record for the number of planes in one transaction.
Sources close to the matter said that deal could be rapidly eclipsed by a 200-plane order being fine-tuned between Airbus and Malaysia’s AirAsia.
Demand for aircraft is on a sharp rebound driven by rapidly growing demand from Asia and the Middle East.
“Those two markets will enjoy at least one-third if not more of the demand increase for global air traffic in the next decade,” said Philip Toy, a managing director at Alix Partners.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy said yesterday he expected to sell more planes this year than in 2010, though he declined to give an estimated figure.
“We are working a lot and it looks like it’s coming together to be a very big show,” Leahy told reporters.
Russia and China will flex their muscles as potential rivals to Airbus and Boeing, especially during a visit by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today, and some analysts expect surprise sales.
But Western planemakers say it will be some time before newcomers mount a serious challenge in civil aerospace.
Brazilian group Embraer also made its presence felt, saying it had won orders for its 190 regional jets.