Claim and counter-claim as Paris Air Show kicks off

June 20, 2011

Airbus has dismissed claims by Jim Albaugh, head of US rival Boeing’s commercial jet division, that the European planemaker's upgraded single aisle A320neo will put it only “on par” with the larger versions of the rival  Boeing 737. 

“There is not an airline in the world that believes that – why would we be selling so many of these neos?” said Airbus head of sales John Leahy. Indeed, Airbus is said to have already comfortably met its target of 500 sales by the end of the Paris Air Show, which opens today.

Airbus is expected to announce record deals on successive days for the A320neo, whose more efficient engines will save airlines 15% in fuel costs.

Industry sources say there could also be some sales of the giant A380 and rival Boeing 747-8 during the June 20-26 event – but the main fight for market share will be in the market for narrow-body, medium-haul 150-seat planes.

Airbus sales are expected to include a £9bn ($16bn) provisional deal from IndiGo to buy 180 A320neos, first announced in January, which would set a record for the number of planes in one transaction. But this could be overshadowed by a 200-plane order from Malaysia's AirAsia.

The A320neo, whose reduced fuel costs make it highly attractive, will probably "sell hundreds but it is hard to tell what is gross and what is net, what is a conversion from an earlier order. There are myriad complications," said analyst Richard Aboulafia. 

Boeing has hinted it could opt for an all-new jet rather than re-engine the 737 to compete with the A320neo. Mr Albaugh said Boeing could get a “20 per cent improvement” with an all-new aircraft. He also noted Airbus’ decision to delay one of the largest versions of its new A350 long-haul jets by 18 months to improve its range so that it can challenge Boeing’s long-haul 777-300ER. The delay would give Rolls-Royce, the aircraft's sole supplier of engines, time to improve range and performance.

Meanwhile Boeing is leaning toward a bigger version of its best-selling but much-delayed 787 Dreamliner – due to enter service later this year – in a market it estimates will be worth almost $2 trillion over the next 20 years.

This would help Boeing counter the A350’s threat in markets where the 777 is dominant – the US planemaker is expected to announce a big 777 order from Qatar Airways during the air show.

Elsewhere two flagship Airbus aircraft have had to be grounded – although one only temporarily. The right-hand wing-tip of the A380, the world's largest jetliner, scraped a building at Le Bourget airport yesterday and was withdrawn from the air show's traditional flying displays.

The delayed European A400M military airlifter, whose wings are made in Bristol, was also withdrawn from air display after a gearbox problem but will be allowed to perform in today's flypast when President Nicolas Sarkozy inaugurates the event.

It is especially annoying for Airbus since Boeing's newly-stretched 747-8 superjumbo touched down at Le Bourget yesterday – its first outing abroad.

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