Emirates Airlines launched the Dubai Airshow on Sunday with a record $18-billion order for 50 Boeing 777s, giving the US company a flying start on its European rival Airbus at the prestigious event.
The United Arab Emirates meanwhile appeared to raise the stakes in its negotiations with France to buy Rafale fighter jets after Eurofighter said the Gulf state has invited it to make a counter offer.
Boeing’s European rival, Airbus, is at the same time expected to receive a new order from Qatar Airways, according to industry sources.
But the Dubai-based Emirates ensured the biennial aviation gathering kicked off with fanfare, announcing the order for 50 Boeing 777-300ERs in a deal that brings the long-haul carrier’s order list to 90.
“Emirates has placed an order for an additional 50 Boeing 777-300ER” planes, in addition to 20 Boeing 777-300ER as an option, Emirates chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum told reporters.
“This order represents a milestone. It is the single largest dollar-value order in Boeing’s history,” the head of the largest carrier in the Middle East said at the signing ceremony.
Sheikh Ahmed put the total value of the firm order and options at $26 billion.
The new order alone dwarfs the value of orders announced at the last edition of the show in 2009, which stood at just over $14 billion, when the global financial crisis hit the aviation industry.
Manufacturers had chalked up orders for aircraft worth a whopping $155.5 billion at the 2007 edition of the show.
Last year, Emirates, one of the world’s fastest growing carriers, placed an order for 30 Boeing 777 planes worth $9.1 billion at Britain’s Farnborough show.
The airline is the largest single operator of the twin-engined 777 planes with 95 units in service.
Sheikh Ahmed said the new order affirms Emirates’ strategy to “expand our long haul destinations and continue to excel as a world leading carrier, connecting the world to Dubai and beyond.”
Emirates has a fleet of 162 wide-bodied aircraft serving 115 destinations in 67 countries.
In addition to its orders from Boeing, Emirates has 73 Airbus A380 superjumbos on order, as well as 70 Airbus A350s.
The carrier is the largest single customer of Airbus’ long-haul airliner A380 with a purchase list of 90 units.
In other commercial aviation deals, Kuwait-based Alafco Aviation lease and finance company is expected to confirm an earlier order for 30 units of Airbus’ A320neo, industry sources said.
The company which provides leasing compliant with Islamic sharia law might order more aircraft, the sources added.
Meanwhile, the UAE made another surprise as the show opened after the European consortium producing Eurofighter Typhoon jets announced a request by the UAE to make a counter offer to France’s Rafale.
The Gulf state which is in the final stages of talks with France on the sale of the Rafale fighter jet asked Britain, which uses the Eurofighter, to provide it with information about the aircraft capacity, and that a briefing took place on October 17, according to a statement by the consortium.
“We have subsequently received a request for proposal for the potential supply of Typhoon,” Eurofighter said of its fighter jet in a statement, adding, “We are now working hard to deliver a response.”
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said last month that Paris was in the final stages of negotiations on the Gulf state purchasing Rafale fighter jets, the pride of France’s Dassault Aviation.
Speaking to journalists at the Dubai show Sunday, Longuet appeared unfazed by the UAE’s approach of Eurofighter, saying the move seemed to be “a measure to liven up the process” of negotiations.
He said he was confident the deal to buy 60 Rafale jets would be concluded before the end of 2011.
He added the UAE side no longer required more powerful engines for the aircraft, adding that the Emiratis have seen through usage that the 7.5-tonne engines did not fail the jet in its missions of reconnaissance, combat, and ground support.
Abu Dhabi had asked for an improved version fitted with a more powerful engines from Snecma of the Safran group with a thrust of nine tonnes, as well as a higher performing radar system from Thales.
Financing of these improvements “is one of the issues under discussion,” a top Dassault Aviation official said in February.
Both the Rafale and the Typhoon were recently involved in combat action over Libya, flown respectively by the French air force and navy and the British Royal Air Force.