LE BOURGET, France — Airbus and Boeing won pledges for big purchases of their lucrative long-haul wide-body jets at the Paris Air Show Monday, raising hopes that demand is recovering following the worldwide recession.
The global aviation event at Le Bourget airfield north of Paris is once again playing host to the rivalry between U.S.-based Boeing and France-based Airbus. After several years of success for their smaller models, the world’s leading plane makers are hoping to get orders for the bigger, more expensive long-haul jets.
Ahead of the aerospace industry showcase, Airbus heavily promoted the A350 — its first all-new plane in eight years. The A350 seats up to 440 and is Airbus’ best chance to catch up with Boeing’s 787 and 777, which carry up to 300 and 365 passengers, respectively, in the race to sell planes used on long-haul flights.
Airbus hoped that the A350’s short test flight last week would bring in potential customers at the show — especially after recent problems with Boeing’s competing 787, dubbed the Dreamliner.
But for the crowds who slogged through torrential downpours, then steamy sun, there was no sight of the Airbus plane. With only four air hours logged, it was not yet approved for flight at Le Bourget’s airfield.
The Dreamliner, by contrast, made a few passes above the airfield at Le Bourget.
As the order race got underway, Boeing said GECAS, the aircraft leasing arm of General Electric, has made a promise to buy 10 of its 787 jets, which are assembled in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. Those would be worth more than $2.4 billion at list prices, though customers often negotiate deep discounts. GECAS is ordering the new version of the 787, the 787-10X.
Qatar Airways also put in orders for Boeing’s other long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 777.
Meanwhile, Airbus announced a potential order Monday for its superjumbo 800-passenger A380 jets, which have seen disappointing sales since launching because of the fairly parlous state of the global economy over the past few years. Doric Lease Corp., signed a memorandum of understanding for the purchase of 20 A380s. That deal, if confirmed, would be worth $8 billion at list prices.
Fernando Alonso, head of Airbus’ flight test division, said Monday that the first A350 flight went exactly as the simulator had predicted, and just like Airbus planes currently in operation. That’s a selling point for airlines reluctant to take the time or expense to retrain pilots.
At a time when fuel costs are a major concern for airlines, many have wondered if the A350, which makes extensive use of fuel-friendly lightweight carbon fiber, would give Airbus a jump on Boeing. But Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing’s civilian aircraft division, claimed Monday that its upcoming revamped 777 isn’t that much heavier and that it has other advantages.
He said a wing redesign and improved engines will allow the plane to carry the same number of passengers “a lot farther.”
“The A350-1000 will be a generation behind on engine technology,” he said.
Sarah DiLorenzo of the AP contributed to this report.