June 18, 2015 / 8:41 AM / 2 years ago

Airbus steals show with last-minute $14 billion Wizz deal

An Airbus A380, the world's largest jetliner, generates vortex during a flying display at the 51st Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport near Paris, June 18, 2015.Pascal Rossignol

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) won the Paris Airshow with a last-minute $14 billion deal to sell 110 jets to Hungary's Wizz Air on Thursday, diverting attention from a growing industry debate over how quickly a record backlog of jet orders can be built.

The deal, sealed in an all-night negotiating session with ordered-in pizza, avoided a rare defeat for the France-based planemaker at its home arena and is expected to be followed by orders for dozens of A330 jets from China in weeks to come.

Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) CEO Jozsef Varadi made light of the marathon but is likely to have received a steep discount for his A321neo jets, after Boeing (BA.N) bid aggressively and Airbus appeared to be facing a disappointing end to a subdued week.

"I don't like these air shows, because every time I come I buy something," Varadi joked in front of beaming Airbus officials at a hurriedly arranged news conference.

Airbus ended the trade part of the June 15-21 show with orders and commitments for 421 aircraft worth $57 billion, against 331 aircraft worth $50.2 billion for Boeing.

In terms of firm orders, Boeing came out on top with 154 worth $20.2 billion, against 124 for Airbus worth $16.3 billion.

Although the competition had been running behind the scenes for some months, a Wizz Air deal was not expected to be ready in time for the show. "This was higher than I personally expected," Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of Airbus Group's planemaking division, said of the total orders.

Going into the show, Airbus had the lead over Boeing in plane orders, with 247 so far this year versus Boeing's 175. That had looked set to change at Le Bourget outside Paris as Boeing sold 100 jets to leasing company AerCap (AER.N).

Boeing also produced a flourish apparently timed to coincide with the show, announcing a preliminary deal for 20 of its 747-8 freighters from Russian cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Group.

The deal supplies a lifeline to a programme that had been running out of orders.

Many analysts believe the commercial jet market is slowing after riding out the financial crisis due to demand in Asia.

But Airbus and Boeing executives expressed confidence in the market and said they were on course to reach their targets of selling at least as many planes as they make this year.

Many delegates described the show as muted, with the focus on how manufacturers and suppliers can execute on almost a decade's worth of orders, rather than on winning new deals.

SUPPLIER TENSIONS

The show revealed some tensions between planemakers and suppliers. General Electric (GE.N) said it wanted to secure a record increase in engine production for single-aisle planes before deciding whether it could go higher, echoing comments from partner Safran (SAF.PA).

"One gets the feeling the airframers are pushing up against the limits of what the supply chain is willing to do," analyst Nick Cunningham said.

Bregier said suppliers risked losing business if they did not wish to go along with still-higher production rates and sales chief John Leahy pointed out Airbus had two engine suppliers for its single-aisle planes.

"In this business we need to take risks and I have to educate my partners that when I take risks, these risks are well under control and they have to share that with me," Bregier said.

Airbus shares, down 3 percent earlier on Thursday as the euro strengthened against the U.S. dollar, pared gains and closed down 0.5 percent. Boeing shares traded up 1 percent.

Manufacturers made no major product announcements at the show. Airbus said it was still considering whether to re-engine or slightly stretch its A380 superjumbo and reiterated it was studying whether to expand its A350-1000 twin-engined long-haul jet, but no decision is expected soon.

Boeing said it had not yet decided whether to invest in a middle-market jet to fill a gap in a potentially lucrative part of the market, which includes its 757, which is nearing retirement.

The new management of smaller planemaker Bombardier (BBDb.TO) showed off the new CSeries jet for the first time at an air show. It did not win any new orders for the plane, which represents its push to compete in the market for smaller narrow-body jets dominated by Boeing and Airbus.

The Canadian firm had tempered expectations in advance of the show, saying it did not expect any orders for the CSeries in Paris. It did, though, announce test results showing the plane performing better than expected.

"They need to be getting orders at this stage so they helped brace the market for it, but it's not good news anyway," said Espirito Santo Investment Bank analyst Edward Stacey.

Brazil's Embraer (EMBR3.SA) had a solid show with 50 orders.

Additional reporting by Sarah Young, James Regan and Jessica Chen; Editing by Mark Potter and David Holmes

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