Airbus targets more than 400 orders this year

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European aircraft manufacturer Airbus said on Thursday it now hoped to win orders for more than 400 planes this year, reporting a solid performance at the Farnborough International Airshow.

The event, now in its fourth day and scheduled to end on Sunday, had yielded overall aircraft sales totalling 37.5 billion dollars (29 billion euros) by late on Wednesday, event organisers said.

The volume of business highlighted a resurgent civil aviation sector, which had been battered by the global financial crisis and disruptions to European operations earlier this year caused by an Iceland-based volcanic ash cloud.

A major new order was announced early on Thursday when Virgin America said it planned to buy 40 Airbus A320 mid-range aircraft with a list price of 3.25 billion dollars.

"This was a good airshow for us and I think it was a good airshow for the aviation industry," said Airbus chief executive Thomas Enders said.

Airbus, a unit of the European aerospace giant EADS, has won firm orders for 133 planes worth 13 billion dollars at the show along with preliminary orders for 122 aircraft worth 15 billion dollars.

It was unclear whether the Virgin America order had been included in the total.

Prior to Farnborough Airbus had received firm orders for 131 of its planes.

Enders said the company had raised its orders target for this year from 250-300 to more than 400.

"This airshow confirms the recovery trend observed during the last months," Enders said.

Added Airbus finance director John Leahy: "This clearly proves that the market is back and that our new end of year target for over 400 orders is within reach.

"It looks like we have turned the corner."

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer also said Farnborough had been good for business, yielding contracts in the amount of 7.9 billion dollars.

"This is has been a very good show for Embraer and I would say for the entire aerospace industry after a deep crisis," said an Embraer vice president, Horacio Aragones Forjaz.

"We have managed to go through this difficult period by reacting very precisely. We took several cost-cutting measures, we renegotiated contracts with suppliers and cut expensive services.

Virgin America meanwhile said the 40 A320 aircraft it had ordered would be delivered from 2013 through 2016.

The US airline said its fleet was now projected to grow from 28 aircraft currently to 90 by 2016.

British billionaire Richard Branson launched San Francisco-based Virgin America in August 2007 after appeasing regulators that forbid more than 25 percent foreign ownership of US airlines.

The low-cost carrier quickly established itself as a hip operation tuned into the Internet Age lifestyle. Virgin jets were the first to feature plugs at passenger seats for charging laptops, iPods, smartphones or other gadgets.

Virgin set another airborne standard by turning its jets into flying "hot spots" where passengers can get wireless Internet connections for 13 dollars.

© 2010 AFP

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