Airbus fights back under dark skies

Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:27pm EDT
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By Victoria Bryan and Andrea Shalal-Esa

FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - Airbus has won a potential $4.2 billion order for its A350 passenger jet, its first major deal at a subdued Farnborough Airshow, where a faltering global economy is casting clouds as dark as the skies over southern Britain.

The deal announced on Tuesday with Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific is a major boost for the European planemaker, which has been struggling to sell its A350-1000 "mini-jumbo" and make a dent in Boeing's hold on the lucrative corner of the passenger jet market, just below 400 seats.

Boeing itself announced a provisional deal to sell 100 next-generation narrowbody 737 airliners to leasing firm GECAS. They are worth around $9.3 billion at list prices.

That was the U.S. group's second big deal for the revamped plane in as many days, bolstering its fightback against Airbus's A320neo in the top-selling short-haul segment of the market.

Both deals, however, were well flagged in advance of the show, where there have so far been no major surprises.

The event "really has been pretty quiet," said Scott Donnelly, chairman and chief executive officer of Textron Inc, the U.S. manufacturer of Bell and Cessna aircraft. He told Reuters: "It's certainly one of the quieter Farnboroughs."

Boeing and Airbus, which battle for the bulk of a jet market estimated at $100 billion a year, played down expectations ahead of the aerospace industry's showcase gathering, arguing their order books were already bulging.

Despite stuttering economies, they say demand remains strong as airlines modernize fleets to survive high fuel costs and the balance of growth shifts towards Asia, with Boeing raising its long-term industry forecasts last week.   Continued...

A model of an Airbus A350 passenger plane is displayed at a news conference in Hong Kong, March 7, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip