The global aviation event at Le Bourget airfield north of Paris is once again playing host to the rivalry between U.S.-based Boeing and France-based Airbus. After several years of success for their smaller models, the world's leading plane makers are hoping to get orders for the bigger, more expensive long-haul jets.
Ahead of the aerospace industry showcase, Airbus heavily promoted the A350 — its first all-new plane in eight years. The A350 seats up to 440 and is Airbus' best chance to catch up with Boeing's 787 and 777, which carry up to 300 and 365 passengers respectively, in the race to sell planes used on long-haul flights.
Airbus hoped that the A350's short test flight last week would bring in potential customers at the show, especially after recent problems with Boeing's competing 787, dubbed the Dreamliner.
But for the crowds who slogged through torrential downpours, then steamy sun, there was no sight of the Airbus plane. With only four air hours logged, it was not yet approved for flight at Le Bourget's airfield.
The Dreamliner, by contrast, made a few passes above the airfield at Le Bourget, its silence providing a stark contrast to Monday's other showstopper: the Russian fighter the Su-35, which flew for the first time outside its home country.
As the order race got under way, Boeing said GECAS, the aircraft leasing arm of General Electric, has made a promise to buy 10 of its 787 jets. Those would be worth more than $2.4 billion at list prices, though customers often negotiate deep discounts. GECAS is ordering the new version of the 787, the 787-10X.
Qatar Airways also put in orders for Boeing's other long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 777.
Meanwhile, Airbus announced a potential order Monday for its superjumbo 800-passenger A380 jets, which have seen disappointing sales since launching because of the state of the global economy over the past few years. Doric Lease Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding for the purchase of 20 A380s. That deal, if confirmed, would be worth $8 billion at list prices.
Fernando Alonso, head of Airbus' flight test division, said Monday that the first A350 flight went exactly as the simulator had predicted, and just like Airbus planes currently in operation. That's a selling point for airlines reluctant to take the time or expense to retrain pilots.
At a time when fuel costs are a major concern for airlines, many have wondered if the A350, which makes extensive use of fuel-friendly lightweight carbon fiber, would give Airbus a jump on Boeing. But Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing's civilian aircraft division, claimed Monday that its upcoming revamped 777 isn't that much heavier and that it has other advantages.
He told reporters that a wing redesign and improved engines will allow the plane to carry the same number of passengers "a lot farther."
"The A350-1000 will be a generation behind on engine technology," he said.
The most spectacular displays at the air show, though, are the demonstrations of fighter jets rocketing up toward space before diving back down gracefully. Russia is hoping its twin-engine multipurpose fighter, the Su-35, will clean up orders in the absence of American competition this year. American fighter jets are not on display for the first time in more than two decades because of budget cuts in Washington.
"It's two different trends between commercial aircraft and defence," said Eric Bernardini, a consultant with AlixPartners who follows the aerospace industry. "Commercial aircraft is booming."
Smaller planes dominated the last air show in Paris and also had a good showing Monday. Lufthansa confirmed its March deal for 100 planes in the smaller Airbus A320 family, Airbus said. And International Lease Finance Corporation made a firm order for 50 short-haul A320neo jets. At list prices, those deals together would be worth about $15 billion. Los Angeles-based ILFC is Airbus' biggest customer.
Brazilian Embraer, which makes smaller-capacity commercial jets, announced the sale of 215 of its new-generation planes, with an option for another 165. The bulk of the commitments — 100 of the E175-E2 aircraft — went to U.S. based regional airline SkyWest. The new planes have a list price of between $46 million and $60 million.
AP writer Sarah DiLorenzo in Le Bourget, France, contributed to this article.
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