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Airbus makes up ground with 62 new jet orders

European planemaker Airbus announced 62 new jet orders  making up some ground on U.S. rival Boeing Co. in the order book stakes.
/ Source: The Associated Press

European planemaker Airbus announced 62 new jet orders Wednesday, making up some ground on U.S. rival Boeing Co. in the order book stakes.

Airbus, which arrived at the Farnborough International Airshow on the backfoot after costly new production delays to its flagship A380 superjumbo sparked high-level management changes, unveiled deals with plane leasing company International Lease Finance Corp., low-cost carrier AirAsia Bhd. and Greece's Aegean Airlines SA.

The vast majority of the orders were for Airbus' A320-family single-aisle passenger jets.

Malaysia's AirAsia ordered 40 of the planes, with an option for 30 more, while ILFC, a unit of American International Group Inc., ordered six of the jets.

Aegean Airlines picked up three more A320s to replace aging aircraft in its fleet.

"We are very proud to see a renewed order from Aegean Airlines so quickly after becoming a new Airbus customer in December 2005," said Airbus Chief Executive Christian Streiff.

Aegean has now committed to 14 aircraft of the A320 family — including three additional A320s leased from ILFC — and has a further nine options. Delivery of the aircraft announced Wednesday is scheduled to take place between January 2007 and April 2009.

In another, nonbinding agreement, Spanish carrier Grupo Marsans agreed to buy 12 Airbus A330-200 airplanes, with an option for a further 10 planes.

Airbus also said that its corporate jetliner arm has won a new order from an undisclosed European customer, taking firm orders of the company's executive and private aircraft in 2006 to a record 14. Airbus did not disclose which of its corporate jets was ordered or its list price.

Boeing Co., meanwhile, announced orders for 14 of its passenger and cargo planes.

The Chicago-based company said that ILFC exercised an option to purchase a total of 10 planes —six 737-800s, two 777-300ERs and two 787 Dreamliners — in a deal worth around $1.2 billion at list prices.

"These airplanes reflect our confidence in the market going forward and our commitment to Boeing and its product line," said ILFC Chief Executive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy.

ILFC was the first leasing company to be announced as a Dreamliner customer at the Dubai Airshow in 2005.

"As our largest leasing customer, ILFC has great influence on the market and we appreciate its affirmation of our product line," said John Feren, Chicago-based Boeing's vice president of leasing and asset management.

Deliveries of the 737s and the 777s will begin in the first quarter of 2009 and deliveries of the 787s will begin in early 2012.

Boeing also announced a nonbinding agreement to sell Indian cargo airline Flyington Freighters four 777 freighters. Boeing said that deal was subject to the carrier obtaining the necessary statutory clearances.

The rash of deals came on the third day of the airshow, one of the biggest events on the aviation calendar.

Airbus is seeking to reassure investors at Farnborough that it is back on track after the A380 delays and management changes last month at both Airbus and its parent company European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co.

The upheaval came amid mounting customer dissatisfaction with the mid-sized A350 program, which was billed as a rival to the 787 but had won only 100 firm orders prior to a $10 billion revamp announced this week, compared with the Dreamliner's 360.

Pressure for a rethink of the A350 had also intensified with rising oil prices, as Boeing's twin-engined 777 increasingly trounced the less-efficient, four-engined Airbus A340 in competition for contracts. Airbus fell behind Boeing on overall order value last year as a result.

Unveiled Monday, the A350XWB _ for "extra-wide body" _ seeks to beat the Dreamliner at its own game. It offers bigger windows, a roomier cabin, even greater fuel efficiency and a larger stretch version seating 350 passengers _ 15 fewer than the 777-300ER.

Some analysts are skeptical about the ambitious objectives, as well the announced 2012 entry into service.

Airlines at the show have voiced tentative interest in the new design. The chairman of Dubai-based carrier Emirates gave cautious approval and British Airways PLC said it will study the Airbus blueprint before deciding on new mid-sized planes.

Including nonbinding commitments, Boeing has sold 403 Dreamliners and says it is talks to sell twice as many more.

"If anything, the pace is picking up," said Mike Bair, head of Boeing's 787 program. But a decision on ramping up production from 2010 isn't needed for another year, he said.