Airbus soars to lead in plane orders

A raft of orders at the Paris Air Show this week has boosted Airbus' fortunes and returned the European planemaker to the lead in overall airplane sales bookings for 2007 from rival Boeing Co.

Airbus landed dozens of orders Thursday from Asia and Latin America for its narrow-bodied A320 and its larger A330 models, following a string of other deals unveiled at the industry's premier gathering.

Thursday's sales brought Airbus to at least 600 firm orders for the year, including 400 firm orders this week. Chicago-based Boeing has booked 510 firm orders during 2007, according to an update on the company's Web site Thursday.

Airbus led Boeing in sales for several years but fell behind in 2006, when Airbus was plagued by management turmoil at its parent company and delays to its A380 superjumbo jet.

As of the end of May, Airbus had booked 201 firm orders, compared with Boeing's 417.

Singapore-based Tiger Airways said Thursday that it is ordering 30 single-aisle A320 aircraft from Airbus and is taking options for 20 more. The order is valued at $2.2 billion at catalog prices.

Tiger Chief Executive Tony Davis said deliveries of the additional aircraft will start in 2011 and run through 2014. The latest purchase agreement is in the form of a memorandum of understanding that was concluded over lunch Thursday, Airbus sales chief John Leahy said. Airlines usually firm up those memorandums into binding orders after a few months.

Indonesia-based Mandala Airlines is ordering 25 A320 aircraft, with options for five more, in a deal worth $1.9 billion at catalog prices, officials announced. Hong Kong Airlines will acquire 30 A320s and 20 A330-200 aircraft. Colombia's flag carrier, Avianca, converting options, has signed a firm contract for 19 Airbus planes.

Financial details were not disclosed for the Avianca deal, while the value of the Hong Kong Airlines order, which also includes a corporate jet, is about $6 billion at catalog prices.

Earlier in the week, Airbus racked up more orders for its A350 XWB aircraft, while Boeing snagged the troubled jet's original launch customer for its own 787 Dreamliner. The tussle between the companies for customers for the A350 and the 787 is at the heart of the long-running rivalry between them.

But Airbus suffered a setback Thursday when it failed to persuade General Electric Co., the world's biggest jet engine-maker, to build a new turbine for the A350 XWB.

A meeting between Airbus Chief Executive Louis Gallois and GE Aviation boss Scott Donnelly ended without an agreement, Leahy and GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said. GE is not convinced there is a case for spending $1 billion to develop a new engine.

"When I look at what they're asking, I can't make it work for me," Donnelly said. "Their reaction is that what I offered doesn't work for them."

The A350 is offered with only one engine, the Trent XWB from Rolls-Royce Group PLC. Airlines try to avoid buying planes with only one engine supplier because it leaves them with little leverage to negotiate on price and ongoing maintenance costs.

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