Last updated: 16 November, 2011

Qatar Airways chief spurns Airbus

Airbus and Boeing ended the Dubai Airshow head to head on Wednesday after bagging major orders as the European producer widened the gap on its US rival by promoting eco-friendly, single-aisle jets.

The prestigious aviation show was kicked off with a record order by Emirates for 50 Boeing long-range 777-300ER jetliners, in an $18-billion deal that also confirmed the Dubai-based carrier as the largest operator of 777s.

And the American manufacturer topped off its single largest dollar-value order with the sale of two 777 freighters to Qatar Airways for $560 million.

Airbus meanwhile had to endure apparently tough last-minute talks with Qatar Airways for a large order anticipated since June.

The Gulf carrier’s chief Akbar al-Baker cancelled a commercial announcement with the European company on Tuesday, and went instead to a joint news conference with Boeing, lashing out at Airbus by saying the manufacturer was “still learning how to make airplanes.”

Few hours later, he turned up all smiles for a joint briefing with Airbus, announcing the long-awaited order which gave a large boost to the recently launched A320neo fuel-efficient jetliner, of which he ordered 50.

In addition, he doubled the carrier’s order for the A380 superjumbo to 10. The total deal is valued at $6.4 billion at list price.

Airbus sold 50 other A320neos to the Kuwait-based leasing firm ALAFCO for $4.6 billion and 30 others to US-based lessor Aviation Capital Group for $2.7 billion.

Meanwhile, Florida-based carrier Spirit Airlines signed a preliminary agreement for 45 A320neos, in addition to 30 A320s with sharklet wingtips, in a deal valued at $6.7 billion.

Airbus said Wednesday its sales of the recently launched fuel-efficient A320neo single-aisle jetliner have climbed to 1,268 units, including 130 ordered at Dubai Airshow this week.

“Our A320neo has again been the star of the show,” Airbus commercial director John Leahy said on the fourth day of the show which concludes Thursday.

Launched in December 2010 and scheduled to enter service in October 2015, the new version of the A320 family has a list of 21 customers, with AirAsia being the largest single customer after ordering 200 planes.

Five customers have also signed memorandums of understanding for 152 aircraft, bringing the total number to 1,420 units, making it the fastest selling aircraft ever, according to its maker.

Airbus says the A320neo airliner will deliver a 15 percent cut in fuel consumption thanks to the latest generation engines and large sharklets devices.

In August, Airbus’ US rival Boeing, launched its 737 MAX single-aisle aircraft, which builds on its 737 Next-Generation to be more fuel efficient.

The 737 MAX promises a 16 percent improvement in fuel use per seat compared to current competitors and is expected in service in 2017.

The Seattle-based manufacturer has received orders and commitments for 700 units so far, Boeing deputy marketing director Randy Tineth told AFP.

“We have some catching up to do. But we will go back up to a 50 percent (single-aisle) market share, and then push the envelope to see if we can go beyond that,” he said.

Leahy acknowledged that Airbus would not maintain its current large share in the market for the single-aisle, eco-friendly aircraft, which he put at 70 percent.

“We really don’t want to be at the level we are today in terms of market share. We would like to keep our market share in a band of 50 to 60 percent range. I think that is a sustainable situation in a duopoly,” he told reporters.

But in the case of wide-body aircraft, the Emirates’ order of 50 B777 from Boeing showed Airbus to be losing ground due to the delay in the production of its A350.

“The A350 took a blow this week. When companies order that many 777s, they are going to stay with for a while,” said analyst Richard Aboulafi from US-based group Teal.

He said that “Airbus had been ahead in terms of wide-bodies in the region.”

Emirates had placed firm orders for 50 A350-900s and 20 A350-1000s, and took options for 50 A350-900s in 2007, a year after the aircraft was launched.

But its manufacturer announced last week a delay of six months, with first deliveries pushed back to the first half of 2014.

Boeing’s Tinseth praised the 777 which could carry 365 passengers, saying it had a year of an incredible success. Boeing grabbed 184 orders for this type in 2011, breaking the 154 record reached in 2005.

The two manufacturers meanwhile sounded upbeat about prospects for growth in the Middle East market over the next two decades.

Airbus forecast Middle East carriers will require 1,921 new passenger and freighter planes between 2011 and 2030, valued at $347.4 billion, of which 1,882 would be passenger planes.

Boeing was even more upbeat, projecting a Middle East market of $450 billion with demand for 2,520 aircraft by 2030.