By Angela Charlton / Associated Press
PARIS — American Airlines is buying 50 of Airbus’ newest long-range plane, giving a big boost for the just-launched A321XLR and putting added pressure on Boeing as it decides whether to develop a rival aircraft.
Airbus and American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, announced the deal Wednesday at the Paris Air Show, upgrading a previous order for A321neo jets to the A321XLR. No price tag was put on the contract but it is likely worth billions of dollars.
Airbus launched the A321XLR program on Monday. It is a long-range version of the popular single-aisle A320 family. Airbus has already signed several customers for the yet-to-be-built plane.
American Airlines is looking to replace its aging fleet of Boeing 757s, and the order for the A321XLR heightens pressure on Boeing.
Boeing is studying a new jet dubbed the “New Mid-market Airplane,” or NMA, that would be a similar size to the A321XLR and the 757. The American Airlines deal with Airbus could give Boeing more incentive to push ahead with the NMA.
Boeing came into the air show under a cloud of uncertainty. Its 737 Max has been grounded worldwide for three months after new flight software played a role in two deadly plane crashes. There is no clear date for when the Max might fly again.
The company got a boost on Tuesday, however, when International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways and other carriers, signed a letter of intent for 200 Boeing 737 aircraft. The deal is subject to final agreement, but is a vote of confidence in Boeing as it struggles to win back trust from airlines, pilots, regulators and the traveling public.
Airbus has also announced several orders at the show, including to IAG for the new A321XLR. Airbus reported further deals with the likes of Delta Air Lines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Atlantic Airways.
Both Airbus and Boeing face a slowing economy that has tempered the mood at the air show.
After several years of surging growth, passenger traffic in March grew at the weakest rate in nine years, although April was slightly better. The International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group, blames a slowing global economy and damage from tariffs and trade fights.
Plane makers are also under growing pressure from regulators and passengers to reduce carbon emissions. They are looking at hybrid, electric or hydrogen technology to eventually replace existing fuel.