updated 6/17/2009 10:19:42 AM ET 2009-06-17T14:19:42

Boeing Co. scored its first jet order in a small but symbolic breakthrough Wednesday at the Paris Air Show, yet remained well behind rival Airbus in the race to sell planes to cash-strapped airlines and governments.

With commercial orders scarce, American defense contractors elbowed into the troubled market for European military transport planes at the world's biggest air show. The salon at Le Bourget has also been haunted by unresolved questions about the crash of Air France Flight 447.

Boeing won an order for two of its updated 737-800 jets from aircraft leasing company MC Aviation Partners, worth $153 million at list prices. MC Aviation Partners is a unit of Japan's Mitsubishi Corp.

The 737-800 is a short-to-medium range, single-aisle aircraft that seats up to 189 passengers. It competes with the Airbus A320, which has won dozens of orders at the air show as Boeing struggled to woo buyers.

So far, Airbus has made more than $6.2 billion in sales of 57 aircraft at the air show, largely from Asian and low-cost airlines defying worries about global recession. That is still well below the order tally in recent years.

The Philippines-based Zest Airways Inc. placed a firm order for a new single-aisle Airbus A320 on Wednesday to further its quest to expand across Southeast Asia. The list price of the jet is about $76 million, though airlines often negotiate discounts, especially in difficult economic times.

French regional airline Aigle Azur ordered one A319 on Wednesday, its first direct purchase from Airbus. Aigle Azur serves northern Africa and cities in France. The list price for the plane is about $70 million.

On Tuesday, Kuala Lumpur low-cost airline Air Asia ordered 10 A350-900 jets and placed options for five more. The list price for the 10 jets would be $2.4 billion. Vietnam Airlines ordered 16 Airbus A321 single-aisle jets worth $1.4 billion and pledged to buy two more A350-XWB planes.

Boeing shrugged off the Airbus announcements, saying the company doesn't save up orders to announce at air shows.

Airbus is suffering on the defense front, however.

As delays mount for Airbus' troubled new A400M military transport airlifter, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are offering their proven C-130J and C-17 models as alternatives to the European air forces who are in urgent need of a new transport.

"The situation is that many countries in Europe are looking at their airlift requirements and they need to make decisions in the short term," Peter Simmons, spokesman for Lockheed's Air Mobility division, said Wednesday. "We have been approached by a number of countries in Europe to fulfill that role."

Boeing also says it has held talks with members of the seven-nation consortium involved in the Airbus program.

The A400M transporter program was launched in 2003 with a joint order for 180 planes from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey. But Airbus missed a March 31 contractual deadline for the first flight, and is negotiating new technical requirements and commercial terms with the seven buyers.

Analysts say the project could even be on the verge of collapse. The costly delay is especially painful for recession-hit governments.

Boeing and Airbus parent EADS are also setting their sights on a new bid for a U.S. Air Force contract. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to restart the troubled process of replacing the Air Force's aging fleet of planes that gas up other jets in mid-flight.

Gates canceled the competition after the U.S. Government Accountability Office faulted the Air Force's selection last year of a team composed of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Airbus parent European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co., saying the service had unfairly slanted the process against Boeing.

France, meanwhile, is peddling its Rafale jets at the air show, though the fighters have yet to woo a foreign buyer. French Defense Minister Herve Morin said "things are progressing" in efforts to market the Rafale but gave no sign an international contract was imminent.

At a news conference Wednesday at the headquarters of the French air accident investigation agency BEA, investigators said more than 400 pieces of Flight 447 have been found but they still have reached no conclusions about what caused the May 31 crash that killed 228 people flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The Paris Air Show is marking its 100th anniversary. It opened to industry on Monday, and opens to the public Friday to Sunday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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