Aviation

Record air-show orders for Airbus

PARIS — Airbus beat out Boeing with an explosive number of orders during four days at the 49th annual Paris Air Show at Le Bourget.

Airbus announced record commitments for 730 aircraft on Thursday.

It's also a record for the number of orders taken by any commercial aircraft manufacturer at any air show, Airbus said.

The planes are valued at $72 billion at list prices, although airlines negotiate heavy discounts.

Most of the orders — 701 — were for Airbus' new A320neo, an upgraded version of the A320 single-aisle airplane. The plane attracted buyers wanting to lower fuel costs and carbon emissions.

Orders taken at the show give Airbus more than 1,000 orders for the new jet.

"We had customers decide on the spot to sign a MOU (memo of understanding) here," Airbus president and CEO Tom Enders said to a packed auditorium for Airbus' wrap-up news conference.

The blockbuster order of the show was placed by AirAsia and announced Wednesday. AirAsia is Asia-Pacific's largest low-cost carrier.

The carrier's CEO, Tony Fernandes, said he signed a contract for 200 of the A320neo. Neo stands for new engine option, reflecting the plane's new engines.

The deal is Airbus' largest single order for single-aisle airplanes.

Enders said he promised the board of directors strong sales.

"I have to admit I didn't think it would be such a best-selling airplane six months after the launch," he said.

Fernandes, accompanied by 16 AirAsia flight attendants in red uniforms, said demand for air travel is going to "explode" in his part of the world.

"That's why we're doing the deal," he said.

Once deliveries begin, the carrier will take delivery of 12 to 18 planes a year.

Airbus will study whether to increase production beyond the 42 it plans to produce a month by 2013, Enders said.

Today, A320 aircraft are sold out until 2014, and the A320neo version is sold out until early 2019. Airbus will begin building the neos in 2015.

The company isn't taking existing orders for the A320 and converting them to the A320neo, although some customers have asked.

For its part, Boeing announced orders for 142 aircraft valued at $22 billion, including an order from an undisclosed customer for 747-8 intercontinental jets worth $4.7 billion.

Airbus' success with its re-engined aircraft may put increased pressure on Boeing to respond.

Boeing is studying whether to replace its 737NG single-aisle plane, which competes with the A320, or, like Airbus, replace its engines. Teams are studying both options. Boeing plans to announce a decision by the end of the year.

Boeing says Airbus is catching up with, not exceeding, the efficiencies of the 737 with its A320neo.

Airbus' Enders disagrees.

"If after this, our colleagues in Seattle still maintain that the neo is only catching up... then I have to ask what stuff these guys up there in Seattle are smoking," Enders said.

The number of orders for Airbus has had everyone asking the question, "Where is Boeing?"

AirInsight aviation consultant Addison Schonland wrote in a note Thursday:

"Well, they had a pretty good show. They continue to sell the 737, (although) not in the volumes of the neo, but perhaps that is not critical."

The orders may suggest pent-up demand by Airbus customers wanting something new and updated, he wrote.

"It is not like we have seen Boeing 737 customers defect en masse for the neo."

Key Boeing customers want a new design and are increasingly outspoken about it, he said, yet they bought more 737s at the show.

"The design may be old, but it still works well," Schonland said.

"They really do have some time to think it through," he wrote. "Certainly until year's end, as they have been saying."

Thursday was the last day the Paris Air Show was open only to trade visitors, wrapping up the business portion of the show. Today, the show opens to the general public.

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