Airbus dominates Boeing at Farnborough air show

FARNBOROUGH, England — European plane maker Airbus emerged as the clear winner at the Farnborough International Airshow on Thursday after racking up plane orders dwarfing the deals done by U.S. rival Boeing Co.

An agreement to sell South American consortium Synergy Aerospace 10 aircraft worth $2.1 billion took Airbus’ total orders so far at the weeklong show outside of London to 247 planes worth $38.7 billion at catalog prices.

Boeing, meanwhile, boosted its show tally to 197 planes worth $23.1 billion with an apparent headline-grabbing deal with Air China for 45 of its planes worth $6.3 billion.

But the Air China deal, along with two others from Etihad Airways and Malaysia Airways, were already on Boeing’s books — attributed to unidentified buyers. Removing those from the tally, the Chicago-based plane-maker’s deals at the world’s biggest air show drop to just $5.6 billion.

Airbus on Thursday held a self-congratulatory press conference, with the Toulouse, France-based company’s chief salesman John Leahy saying the figures defied the “doom and gloom” that many industry watchers had expected to pervade this year’s air show given soaring oil prices and the global credit crisis.

“We think it ended up pretty well,” Leahy said, adding that Airbus viewed the practice of placing orders on the books before confirming buyers as “quite silly.”

“We are quite comfortable with the fact that we are going to have 50 percent of the world market,” he added, when asked if the company was disappointed that Etihad had split its order between the two major plane makers. “We have never had a goal to do what they have done in the past years and dominate the market with 80 percent or 90 percent.”

Airbus now has a total of 730 firm orders for the year so far.

Most of the purchases at the biggest event of the global aviation calendar have been made by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines and plane leasing companies. Cash-strapped carriers from Europe and the U.S., under heavy pressure from high fuel prices and slowing economic growth, have held on to their wallets.

Asian and Middle Eastern carriers are banking on a degree of insulation from the global credit squeeze and expected growth in infrastructure and tourism to justify purchases, while the leasing companies are relying on the likelihood many carriers elsewhere will be keen to budget by renting, rather than buying, planes until the economy improves.

Total firm plane orders for the show to date — including deals for Embraer, the world’s third-biggest manufacturer, Russia’s Sukhoi and Canada’s Bombardier — reached about $57.7 billion on Thursday, according to an Associated Press tally based on company statements and list prices.

Airlines usually negotiate discounts to the official list prices for planes, and while all the deal makers decline to comment, analysts expect the discounts were deeper than usual this time around with soaring oil prices and the credit crunch crimping demand from many quarters.

Etihad Airways, the state carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has the biggest order by an airline so far at Farnborough, splitting an order for 100 aircraft between Airbus and Boeing worth $20 billion at list prices.

Other deals have been signed by Qatar Airways, FlyDubai, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Arik Air since the show began on Monday.

Leasing companies buying have included Aviation Capital Group and a unit of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.

Those deals pushed the combined Boeing and Airbus total closer to the 506 orders the pair took at the Le Bourget air show last year that many airlines expected before this event opened.

Plane makers have also been using the show to push the line that the current financial outlook could spur an industry shift toward cleaner flying, with the event hosting a summit on “sustainable aviation” attended by executives from Airbus, Boeing and British Airways.

Industry leaders at the summit struck a tone between conciliatory and defensive on global warming Wednesday — pledging to make flying more fuel-efficient but bridling at a European Union emissions trading scheme they see as unfair to European carriers.

Boeing Co. has touted its 787 jet for its greater fuel efficiency while Airbus has done the same with its A380, but both have been hampered by lengthy production delays. Both carriers picked up new orders for those planes at Farnborough.

Almost 1,500 exhibitors from 35 countries are showing off the latest in aviation technology at Farnborough. The air show runs through today for aerospace professionals only; public days are Saturday and Sunday.

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