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Airbus gets back lead in overall airplane sales bookings for 2007

A raft of orders at the Paris Air Show this week has improved Airbus' fortunes and handed the European planemaker back the lead in overall airplane sales bookings for 2007 from rival Boeing Co.

Airbus landed dozens of new orders Thursday from Asia and Latin America for its narrow-bodied A320 and its A330 models, following a string of other deals unveiled at the industry's premier gathering at Le Bourget.

Thursday's sales brought Airbus to at least 600 firm orders for the year so far, including some 400 firm orders this week. Boeing has booked a total of 510 firm orders during 2007, according to an update on the company's Web site Thursday.

Airbus led Boeing on sales for several years but fell behind in 2006, a bruising year for the European planemaker plagued by management turmoil at parent company EADS and delays to the A380 superjumbo.

As of the end of May, Airbus was behind Boeing this year by a considerable margin, having booked 201 firm orders compared with Boeing's 417.

While Airbus hopes the heavy order flow this week will boost its credibility among customers, the company is still expected to report another big loss this year. Worker morale is low, as Airbus pushes ahead with job cuts and factory selloffs as part of its Power8 restructuring plan, meant to recoup losses from the A380 delays.

Singapore-based Tiger Airways said Thursday it is ordering 30 single-aisle A320 aircraft from Airbus and is taking options for another 20. The order is valued at US$2.2 billion (1.63 billion EUR) at catalog prices.

Tiger chief executive officer Tony Davis said deliveries of the additional aircraft will start in 2011 and run through 2014. The latest purchase agreement is in the form of a memorandum of understanding that was concluded over lunch on Thursday, Airbus sales chief John Leahy said. Airlines usually firm up those memorandums into binding orders after a few months.

Jakarta-based Mandala Airlines is ordering 25 A320 aircraft with options for five more in a deal worth US$1.9 billion (1.4 billion EUR) at catalog prices, officials announced Thursday.

Hong Kong Airlines will acquire 30 A320s and 20 A330-200 aircraft, according to a memorandum of understanding signed Thursday, while Colombia's flag carrier Avianca, converting options, has signed a firm contract for 19 Airbus planes.

Airbus also signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian carrier Ural Airlines on the purchase of five single-aisle Airbus A320s. Russia's RIA news agency put the estimated value at US$365 million (272 million EUR) at catalog prices.

Financial details were not disclosed for the Avianca deal, while the value of the Hong Kong Airlines order, which also includes a corporate jet, is about US$6 billion (4.5 billion EUR) at catalog prices. The Avianca contract, which converts options, brings firm orders from the world's second-oldest commercial airline to 57 Airbus planes. The 19 aircraft consist of 14 A320s and five A330-200s.

The deal boosts Airbus' presence in Latin America. Since 1990, Airbus has taken 54 percent of all Latin American orders for new aircraft.

Ural Airlines signed a memorandum of understanding to buy five single-aisle Airbus A320s. It currently has two leased A320s for use on international routes to Egypt, Europe and elsewhere.

"This deal is a very important step in our fleet development," Ural Airlines CEO Kirill Skuratov said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, Airbus racked up more orders for its A350 XWB aircraft, while Boeing snagged the troubled jet's original launch customer for its own 787 Dreamliner. The tussle between the companies for customers for the A350 and the 787 is at the heart of the long-running rivalry between them.

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.

Shares of Airbus parent European Aeronautics Defence & Space Co. dropped 1.77 percent Thursday to 23.76 EUR (US$31.83). Boeing shares rose slightly in New York, by 0.62 percent to US$96.68.

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