Airbus piling up sales during Paris Air Show; Boeing announces 16-plane deal with Air France-KLM

Airbus SAS racked up more orders for its A350 XWB aircraft Wednesday, striking back a day after rival Boeing Co. snagged the troubled jet's original launch customer for its competing 787 Dreamliner.

In announcements timed to make a splash at the Paris Air Show, Airbus landed orders for a total of 166 aircraft, bringing its haul for the first three days of the event to 548 planes worth $75.7 billion on the basis of catalog prices. Of that total, 358 were firm orders and 190 were commitments that are likely to be converted into firm orders in the coming months.

Chicago-based Boeing has announced $15.9 billion worth of orders at the show, but almost all are firm bookings.

In the most significant deals, Airbus signed Russian airline Aeroflot in a firm deal for 22 of the revamped A350 aircraft and received commitments from India's Kingfisher Airlines and Libya's Afriqiyah Airways for 56 more.

The firm order from Aeroflot is worth about $4.4 billion at list prices. The Kingfisher deal for 50 planes is a memorandum of understanding worth about $7 billion. The Afriqiyah deal for six planes, also a memorandum of understanding, is worth about $1.6 billion. Afriqiyah was the first African airline to strike a deal for the plane.

"It's short-term good news, but it doesn't affect the long-term reality," said Doug McVitie, managing director of Dinan, France-based forecaster Arran Aerospace. "Airbus needs a number of quality, new customers. Many of these announcements are conversions of orders for an earlier model of the A350."

The tussle between Airbus and Boeing for customers for the A350 and the 787 is at the heart of their long-running rivalry. Wednesday's deals boost firm orders for the A350 to 134, but that remains far behind the 634 orders for Boeing's Dreamliner.

Airbus has been fighting an uphill battle against the Dreamliner to win customers in the lucrative commercial medium-size, long-range jet market since it was forced into an expensive redesign of the aircraft by unhappy customers, resulting in the extra-wide-body, or XWB, model.

The changes have pushed back the first delivery date of the plane until 2013, years behind the scheduled May 2008 first delivery of Boeing's 787, which is sold out until 2013.

The most vocal of the A350's critics has been Stephen Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Los Angeles-based International Lease Finance Corp., launch customer for the A350. On Tuesday, he signed a deal for 50 Dreamliners, making him the plane's largest customer, with 74 firm orders.

"They need to get a stamp of approval from Hazy," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based consulting company. "If they do that, it would strengthen every customer's perception and make financing easier because it would raise residual values."

Boeing won a 16-plane order Wednesday from Air France-KLM Group valued at $2.7 billion. Air France, Europe's biggest airline, bought nine 777-300ERs, while KLM ordered seven single-aisle 737-700s.

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