updated 8/27/2004 9:32:23 AM ET 2004-08-27T13:32:23

Thai Airways has agreed to buy six Airbus A380s, becoming the 13th airline to order the new “superjumbo” airplane, the European aircraft maker said Friday.

Thai Airways International Ltd. signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire six of the 555-seaters in 2008 and 2009, as well as two A340 long-range jets, Airbus said in a statement.

The deal is worth up to $2.1 billion at list prices. But Airbus spokesman Tore Prang said final details of the order had yet to be negotiated with the airline.

The Airbus statement said Thai Airways planned to use the A380s on long-haul routes from Bangkok to European destinations.

Toulouse-based Airbus SAS is betting its future on strong demand for the A380 for busy long-haul routes. So far it has 129 firm orders as well as commitments to buy another 10 planes from a total of 13 customers. The A380 is set to enter service in 2006.

U.S. rival Boeing Co. is backing a different strategy based on its smaller 7E7 “Dreamliner,” scheduled to enter service two years later.

Boeing says its new plane will fly faster, higher, farther, cleaner, quieter and more efficiently than any other medium-sized jet, using 20 percent less fuel. Boeing has dropped projects for an enlarged jumbo jet that would have directly competed with the A380.

Singapore Airlines Ltd., which is set to be the first airline to fly the A380 in 2006, delivered a blow to Airbus this week when it chose Boeing’s 777-300ER over the Airbus A340-600.

In a deal worth $7.35 billion at list prices, Singapore ordered 18 of the long-range Boeing jets with options on a further 13, but postponed a decision on whether to buy the 7E7 in what was seen as a setback to Boeing’s longer-term fortunes.

Airbus outpaced Boeing in deliveries for the first time ever last year, delivering 305 planes to Boeing’s 281, and has said it is on track to beat that score in 2004 as the aviation market improves.

“The market’s definitely turned,” said Prang. “We’re getting questions from customers on how they can get their aircraft delivered earlier.”

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