Paris airshow opens with flight of orders

20th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The world's biggest airshow opened Monday with a slew of orders as the giants of the aviation industry hawked their wares in a high-stakes game worth untold billions of dollars.

Under damp grey skies, rivals Boeing and Airbus together with some 2,000 smaller aerospace suppliers came to the first Paris International Airshow since the end of the global financial crisis looking to win new airline orders.

French-based Airbus, owned by European high-tech giant EADS, is on home turf and flying high on the back of Asian orders for its new fuel efficient A320neo worth more than $10 billion.

Boeing, however, drew first blood, winning an order from Qatar Airways -- a key Airbus customer too -- for six additional 777-300 long-haul aircraft, worth $1.7 billion at list prices.

The order likely hurt all the more when Qatar Airways expressed its disappointment during the signing ceremony over Airbus' two-year delay in its A350 long-haul carrier which the Gulf company has ordered in large numbers.

Airbus was on the back foot when one of its flagship A380 superjumbos clipped a structure by the taxiway on arrival Sunday, meaning it could not make the demonstration flights which provide the 'wow' factor at the show.

Honour was partly restored with the announcement that a Korean Airlines A380 would step up to perform a fly-past.

Boeing, by contrast, successfully brought along its 747-8 Intercontinental, allowing the longer, modernised version of its trademark jumbo jet to make its international debut in great style on its rival's doorstep.

Meanwhile, the world's third largest planemaker, Embraer of Brazil made a splash with orders worth $1.7 billion (1.19 billion euros) from airlines in Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Kenya for 39 of its 70-120 seat regional jet.

"It's a truly remarkable achievement, given that we've reached 1,000 orders only seven years after our first delivery," the company said.

Separately, ATR, a joint venture of EADS and Italy's Alenia which produces regional jets, said US leasing giant GE Capital Aviation Services would buy 15 of its ATR 72-600 series and take an option on 15 more for $680 million.

ATR hopes that by the end of the week its new orders for 2011 will total two billion dollars and confirm that it leads the regional jet market alongside Canadian rival Bombardier.

Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing's commercial aircraft operations, said the market was coming back strongly while noting that smaller firms from emerging countries such as China and Brazil were beginning to make an impact.

"Traffic is coming back in very strong fashion," Albaugh told a briefing, adding that the days of the Airbus-Boeing "duopoly" was over.

The stakes are high. Last week, Boeing said 33,500 planes worth $4.0 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) would be needed over the next 20 years.

Alternating year-by-year with Britain's Farnborough, Le Bourget is the industry's showpiece event, and opened Monday with trade days for the industry and opening its doors to the public on Friday.

The business side of the event will be dominated by commercial aviation -- the military market being depressed by government spending cutbacks -- but the scientific star of the show will be a unique solar-powered plane.

As big as an airliner with its 63 metre wingspan but as light, at 1,600 kilos, as a family car, the Solar Impulse is to demonstrate the future of aviation with daily flights, weather permitting, around the site.

Still more ambitious but still on the drawing board, EADS will show off plans for a rocket-powered "Zehst" space plane capable of taking 100 passengers from Paris to Tokyo in two-and-a-half hours.

EADS hopes to have a prototype by 2020 and for the plane to enter commercial service around 2050.

© 2011 AFP

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