Airbus lands big orders as Paris Air Show opens

Airbus SAS is back in the game. Or at least that was the message company officials sought to send Monday as they kicked off the Paris Air Show by announcing a series of airplane orders, including one for 92 jets worth $10 billion from US Airways.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. battled right up to the eve of the show but failed to win the US Airways order, the largest made by a U.S. network carrier since the aviation market collapsed in 2001.

John Leahy, chief operating officer for Airbus, the European plane manufacturer, said the deal wasn't finalized until Thursday night.

"I think we've got some momentum going for the rest of the week," Leahy added.

Airbus' chalet, a temporary center built for the show at the edge of the runway at Le Bourget, a hamlet north of Paris, was chaotic Monday. Company officials announced new deals every hour or so to a room that featured a buffet and overflowed with journalists and analysts. Aircraft roared outside during an afternoon flying demonstration.

In contrast, Boeing's temporary quarters seemed tranquil. The American aerospace giant has said it will no longer engage in sales contests with Airbus at the annual air shows, which alternate between France and England.

Boeing's presence also seemed muted. It didn't bring in any jetliners for display at the show and is aiming its media blitz for the rollout of the first 787 Dreamliner early next month, officials said.

Leahy, the master Airbus salesman, took advantage of the situation, stepping into the spotlight.

With the series of aircraft orders from industry leaders such as Air France, GE Commercial Aviation Services, Emirates Airline and US Airways, he signaled that Airbus is recovering from the production and management turmoil that have dominated headlines for the past year, analysts said.

"It was very important. It was crucial," said Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst with the Teal Group, of Airbus' fast start to the show. "If they hadn't gotten many firm orders here, it perhaps would've meant another trip back to the drawing boards [for the A350 XWB]."

US Airways was one of three customers to sign up for the A350, Airbus' answer to Boeing's hot-selling 787 Dreamliner and long-range 777-series jets.

Qatar Airways also announced it was purchasing 80 A350s, as well as three more A380 superjumbo jets. Alafco, a Kuwait-based aircraft leasing and finance company, also announced 12 orders for the jet, as well as seven A320s, Airbus' popular single-aisle plane designed to fly shorter distances.

All three companies had agreed to purchase an earlier version of the plane that was smaller and less expensive. The fact they've agreed to buy the latest iteration of the A350 is a vote of confidence in Airbus and the technology it plans to employ in the plane, analysts said. The latest version, unveiled last year, which will feature a carbon-fiber fuselage attached to an aluminum frame, has been greeted with skepticism by some in the industry.

US Airways chose the aircraft after looking long and hard at the Dreamliner, which Boeing officials now say is sold out through 2015.

"We looked at all the facts," said Andrew Nocella, a senior vice president with the Arizona-based carrier.

"We think the A350 is the right machine at the right time for US Airways."

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