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Airbus to make more orders at Farnborough Airshow

The world's biggest air show continues Tuesday with European plane maker Airbus expected to book more orders, kicking off with a small deal with Middle Eastern carrier Qatar Airways.

Airlines from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have saved the Farnborough International Airshow from an otherwise lackluster start, signing orders for around 150 planes worth more than US$25 billion on Monday.

On Tuesday Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker Qatar Airways said he has ordered four A321s worth $360 million (euros 227.17 million) at list prices with options for another two. Airlines usually negotiate substantial discounts on the catalog price and the exact amount of the deal was not disclosed.

Many European and U.S. airlines are expected to refrain from inking big deals at the Farnborough International Airshow as they cope with rocketing fuel prices and dampening passenger demand from the credit crunch.

In contrast, several Middle Eastern carriers with the benefit of oil-backed sovereign wealth funds are banking on anticipated huge investment and greater tourism in the Gulf region to justify spending at a time when there is talk in the industry of potential cancelations and delays on existing orders.

The biggest deal so far came from Etihad Airways, which split an order for 100 aircraft between Airbus and Boeing worth $20 billion at list prices.

"The size of our order ... mirrors the rising prominence of the Middle East and its increasing emergence as a new focal point of global aviation," CEO James Hogan told reporters.

The order slightly favored Airbus, which won a US$11 billion firm order for 55 planes including 20 single-aisle A320s, 25 mid-size A350s and 10 of the superjumbo A380.

Etihad also announced a firm order worth US$9 billion at list prices for 35 Boeing 787 aircraft and 10 Boeing 777-300ER planes.

In addition Etihad placed options for a further 25 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777s and has agreed purchase rights for a further 10 Boeing 787s and five Boeing 777s.

The recently launched low-cost airline FlyDubai also used the biennal show - it alternates years with an event in Le Bourget in France - to announce an order for 50 next-generation 737-800s, worth around US$3.74 billion in total at current list prices. FlyDubai has substitution rights to convert its 737-800 orders to 737-900ERs in the future.

In a smaller deal, Saudi Arabian Airlines signed a contract with Airbus for eight of the European plane maker's A330-300 wide body aircraft, worth US$1.6 billion at list prices.

Airbus Chief Salesman John Leahy said he would be disappointed if the European planemaker doesn't book firm orders for 200 planes this week.

At the Paris air show last year, 506 orders were taken between Airbus and Boeing. Credit Suisse said it expects around 200-300 orders to be announced at Farnborough.

Boeing also updated on the status of its 787 jetliner, saying it was on schedule to test fly the plane in the fourth quarter of this year and make its first delivery in the third quarter of 2009 but that timing remained tight.

Almost 1,500 exhibitors from 35 countries will show off the latest in aviation technology at Farnborough - a flypast of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet for the U.S. Air Force was a highlight on Monday.

The air show runs July 14-18 for aerospace professionals only; public days are July 19-20.

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