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Paris Air show: more orders won by Boeing, Airbus

A day after U.S. Boeing Co. snagged the troubled jet's original launch customer for its own 787 Dreamliner, Airbus racked up more orders for its A350 XWB aircraft on Wednesday.

In announcements timed to make a splash at the weeklong Paris Air Show, Airbus signed up Russian airline Aeroflot in a firm deal for 22 of the revamped aircraft and received commitments from India's Kingfisher Airlines and Libya's Afriqiyah Airways to buy another 56.

The deals agreed Wednesday add to a big order from Qatar Airways earlier in the week for 80 of the planes, taking the total firm orders for the plane so far to 127. However, despite the flurry of deals at the fair in Le Bourget, north of Paris, that is still far behind the 634 orders for Boeing's Dreamliner.

Airbus has been fighting an uphill battle against the Dreamliner to win customers in the lucrative commercial medium-sized long-range jet market since it was forced into an expensive redesign of the aircraft by unhappy customers - resulting in the extra-wide-body, or XWB, model.

The changes have pushed back the first delivery date of the plane until 2013, years behind the first delivery of Boeing's 787 due in May 2008, which is now sold out for delivery until 2013.

The most vocal of the critics was Stephen Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Los Angeles-based International Lease Finance Corp., the launch customer for the A350 - which on Tuesday signed a deal with Boeing for 50 more Dreamliners.

That deal made ILFC, the world's largest plane leasing company, the biggest customer for the 787 - the first commercial jet made of light, sturdy, carbon-fiber composites instead of aluminum - with 74 firm orders.

ILFC originally ordered 16 A350s, but those are on hold following the redesign.

Udvar-Hazy, who hinted Tuesday that ILFC would order more Dreamliners in the coming months, was due to meet with Airbus co-Chief Executive Louis Gallois later Wednesday to discuss progress on the A350.

Even Airbus' newest customer, Aeroflot, whose deal for 22 A350s worth US$3.2 billion (EUR2.4 billion) at list prices confirms an earlier commitment to buy the planes signed in March, has already ordered 22 Dreamliners.

The Kingfisher deal for 50 planes is a memorandum of understanding worth around US$7 billion (EUR5.2 billion) at catalog prices, as is the Afriqiyah Airways deal for 6 planes worth around US$1.6 billion (EUR1.2 billion). Afriqiyah was the first African airline to strike a deal for the plane.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that Airbus had been forced to heavily discount its prices for the A350 to lure back customers. He said the prices being achieved were comparable with those of the Dreamliner, adding that he had seen 787 pricing below the A350 price during negotiations with customers.

Mike Bair, who heads the 787 program, was dismissive of that suggestion, pointing out that Airbus had not attempted to buy a Dreamliner and that airlines were keen to get the best price.

The tussle between Airbus and Boeing for customers for the A350 and the 787 is at the heart of the long-running rivalry between the pair.

Airbus, which headed to Le Bourget on the back foot after a management upheaval prompted by the A350 difficulties and problems with its flagship double-decker A380, has attempted to cement a comeback with a raft of carefully timed orders.

It continues to hold a strong lead in the overall tally at Le Bourget so far with a total of US$67.3 billion (EUR50.1 billion), compared to Boeing's US$15.9 billion (EUR11.8 billion). However, almost all Boeing's orders are firm bookings.

Orders announced Wednesday included an agreement from Etihad Airways agreed to buy four A340-600s, five A330-200s and three A330-200 freighter planes in a deal worth US$2.2 billion (EUR1.6 billion) at catalog prices.

Also, U.S. aircraft leasing company Aircastle Ltd. said a subsidiary would purchase 15 Airbus A330-200F freighter aircraft and Aeroflot signed an additional contract to buy five A321s.

Etihad Chief Executive James Hogan said the carrier will defer its planned deliveries of four double-decker Airbus A380 airplanes until 2013, instead of 2009, to give the airline time to expand its global route network before adding the 525-seater planes. He added that the airline remains committed to taking the A380s.

Airbus's decision to focus on the A380 is the reason its position as the world's dominant planemaker has slipped. Wiring and other technical problems have led to a two-year delay in delivery of the plane, which is expected to wipe EUR4.8 billion (US$6.2 billion) off the profit of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. NV over the next four years. The plane is now due for its first delivery later this year.

Airbus sought to reassure investors and customers at Le Bourget, where the A380 is an popular participant in the daily flying displays, that it is on track.

"I can tell you with full confidence that Airbus is back," Gallois said Tuesday.

Boeing, meanwhile, pocketed more plane orders from Air France and KLM on Wednesday.

KLM ordered seven of Boeing's next-generation 737-700 aircraft, while Air France picked up nine of its 777-300 ER, or extended range, planes. The combined firm orders worth US$2.7 billion (EUR2.01 billion) at list prices were previously on Boeing's books as preliminary deals assigned to "unidentified customers."

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