114 orders for A350 give Airbus a lift

Boeing foe breathes sigh of relief in Paris

June 19, 2007|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- Airlines gave a major lift to the order book for the next generation Airbus A350 yesterday, announcing contracts for 114 of the planes on the first day of the Paris Air Show. The vote of confidence puts the late-to-the-gate program on more solid footing, although it is still well behind Boeing's rival jet.

The A350 orders, worth more than $27 billion, were part of a total haul of 219 firm orders and 120 provisional ones - including 13 for the much-delayed A380 superjumbo - with a combined value of $45.7 billion at list prices.

"The A350 program is now confirmed," said Doug McVitie, managing director of Arran Aerospace in Dinan, France. "They have industry money to build it and they have gained credibility."

Airbus SAS views the A350 - which it began marketing in 2004 as a competitor to Boeing's popular 787 Dreamliner - as crucial to its recovery as it carries out a major restructuring. The orders announced yesterday put the company more than halfway to its target of securing 200 orders this year.

The program got a further boost from ministers representing governments in the partner countries of Airbus - France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom - who declared their confidence in the A350 aircraft program and its so-called Power8 cost-cutting plan, Reuters reported.

The new orders came from several airlines that had been heatedly wooed by both Airbus and Boeing, including US Airways. The airline said it had agreed to terms with Airbus for 22 of the long-range A350s, part of a 92-jet deal that includes 60 of Airbus' popular A320 single-aisle planes and 10 new A330s. Airbus valued the US Airways orders at $10 billion at published list prices.

Airbus had been engaged in an intense competition with Boeing's 787 for the US Airways contract, and speculation had recently mounted that the deal could go to the U.S. manufacturer. Andrew P. Nocella, a US Airways senior vice president for planning, offered little insight into the carrier's decision to opt for the Airbus plane.

"The A350 is the right machine for US Airways at the right time," Nocella said. "The timing for delivery worked out very well for us," he said.

US Airways expects to receive its first A350s in 2014. The US Airways announcement followed a contract signing ceremony at Le Bourget airfield of a previously disclosed order from Qatar Airways for 80 new A350s.

Akbar al-Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, said the order was worth $16 billion. Louis Gallois, the Airbus chief executive, said Qatar would be the first airline to receive the new A350, in 2013.

Aviation Lease and Finance, based in Kuwait, converted a previous purchase option for 12 A350s into a firm order, the first such order for the craft from a jet leasing company. The company, known as Alafco, also placed a new order for seven A320s in a deal worth $3 billion.

Alafco had previously announced an order for 12 of Boeing's 787 jets in March.

According to news reports last week, International Lease Finance Corp., considered one of the most influential players in the aviation business, was nearing a deal with Boeing for as many as 50 787s valued at $7.6 billion at list prices.

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