Qatar to Order 80 A350s

Airbus rescued an order from Qatar Airways for 80 A350 XWB long-range planes after designing a wider body and wings to beat out Boeing's rival 787 Dreamliner.

"We have got what we want from them," Akbar al-Baker, chief executive of the state-owned Persian Gulf airline, said Tuesday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He said he expects to sign a firm order at the Paris Air Show in June and a preliminary agreement in weeks.

The 80 planes have a list price of $16 billion, but analysts estimate the actual purchase price might be half that after discounts.

Al-Baker threatened to buy Boeing's 787 on Feb. 27 unless Airbus came up with a detailed redesign of the A350 by June. Qatar, which operates an all-Airbus fleet, was the first customer for the plane at the Paris show in 2005. Airbus has reworked the aircraft several times as airlines chose Boeing's new plane.

"It's clearly a large foundation stone in the process of constructing an order backlog for the A350," said Will Mackie, an analyst at Mainfirst in London.

Boeing already has a backlog of 787 orders for 490 planes from 38 customers. Airbus so far has orders for about 100 of the A350s; most of those have to be confirmed because of the frequent redesigns of the plane. The 787 may help Boeing regain the lead in commercial-jet building from Airbus as soon as 2008.

The only firm order for the A350 XWB from an airline customer has been an 11-plane contract from Finnair Oyj, Finland's state-controlled carrier, signed March 8. In December, U.S.-based leasing company Pegasus Aviation Finance ordered two of the planes.

Singapore Airlines agreed to buy 20 A350 XWBs last June, with options to buy 20 more, though it hasn't yet signed a firm order.

On March 22, Airbus also won a pledge from Russia's Aeroflot to buy 22 A350s.

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