Airbus clinches first airline customer for revamped jet

Tue Jul 15, 2014 12:37pm EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Victoria Bryan

FARNBOROUGH England (Reuters) - Airbus clinched its first airline customer for a newly revamped model with a tentative deal with Malaysia's AirAsia (AIRA.KL: Quote) for 50 A330neo wide-body jets worth over $13 billion on Tuesday.

The deal was sealed with a peck on the cheek from the French boss of Europe's largest planemaker for AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes, who told the Farnborough Airshow: "We're Airbus's largest plane customer and definitely the most loved".

The deal brings the tally of provisional orders for the upgraded and more fuel-efficient version of the A330 to more than 100 units after deals with three leasing companies.

The aircraft will be used by long-haul affiliate AirAsia X (AIRX.KL: Quote), which has long campaigned for extra fuel savings.

It is an aircraft that Airbus had not expected to make until recently but which it is gambling will put pressure on Boeing's much newer 787 Dreamliner in an order race for aircraft with 250-300 seats, ideally suited to growing intra-Asian travel.

Boeing (BA.N: Quote) has attacked Airbus's latest model as a rehash of tired metallic technology compared with its carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner, which also gathered new orders on Tuesday.

But Airbus and a trio of leasing company buyers said the A330 still made sense for airlines that do not need the full range capability of the 787 or its own A350, even though the smallest member of the A350 family is now sure to be axed.

Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders said the response to the revamped plane, which was unveiled on Monday, showed it had made the right decision.   Continued...

The Airbus Industrie A380 aircraft comes into land after its display at the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, southern England July 14, 2014.    REUTERS/Kieran Doherty