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Boeing makes first Paris Air Show sales but still trails Airbus

LE BOURGET, France — Boeing Co. finally joined the orders race on the third day of the Paris Air Show, but its $153 million order Wednesday for two single-aisle planes paled beside the $6.25 billion already chalked up by European rival Airbus.

Yet even Airbus' numbers were diminutive compared to past years. Airlines and governments strapped for cash and credit appeared to have come to the world's biggest air show, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, as tourists instead of buyers this year, admiring the high-tech hardware but hiding their checkbooks.

The bulk of the commercial orders have been for single-aisle planes, the cash cows of both Boeing and Airbus. In the current economic climate, it's harder for airlines to finance larger aircraft, which may also be harder to fill if the recession continues to dent air travel.

Kuala Lumpur low-cost airline Air Asia was the only customer to place an order for the larger aircraft: 10 Airbus A350-900 worth $2.4 billion at list prices.

Boeing won its first order Wednesday — a small but symbolic breakthrough — for two of its updated 737-800 jets from aircraft leasing company MC Aviation Partners, worth $153 million. MC Aviation Partners is a unit of Japan's Mitsubishi Corp.

The 737-800 is a short- to-medium range, single-aisle aircraft that seats up to 189 passengers. It competes with the Airbus A320, which has won dozens of orders at the air show as Boeing struggled to woo buyers.

Airbus won two orders Wednesday, from Philippines-based Zest Airways Inc. and French regional airline Aigle Azur, totaling about $146 million.

Airbus is suffering on the defense front, however. As delays mount for Airbus' troubled new A400M military transport airlifter, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are offering their proven C-130J and C-17 models as alternatives to the European air forces who are in urgent need of a new transport.

"Many countries in Europe are looking at their airlift requirements, and they need to make decisions in the short term," Peter Simmons, a spokesman for Lockheed's air mobility division, said Wednesday. "We have been approached by a number of countries in Europe to fulfill that role."

Boeing also says it has held talks with members of the seven-nation consortium involved in the Airbus program.

The A400M transporter program was launched in 2003 with a joint order for 180 planes from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey. But Airbus missed a March 31 deadline for the first flight, and is negotiating new technical requirements and commercial terms with the seven buyers.

Analysts say the project could even be on the verge of collapse. The costly delay is especially painful for recession-hit governments.

Airbus suggested that despite the troubles, it might eventually be able to market the A400M to the United States.

Boeing and Airbus parent EADS are also setting their sights on a new bid for a U.S. Air Force contract. In the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to restart the troubled process of replacing the Air Force's aging fleet of planes that gas up other jets in midflight.

Gates canceled the earlier bidding after the Government Accountability Office faulted the Air Force's selection last year of a team composed of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Airbus parent European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co., saying the service had unfairly slanted the process against Boeing.

Ralph Crosby, chief executive of EADS North America, was confident about the EADS-Northrop team's chances. "We're going to win. We won once; hey, the fundamentals haven't changed," he said earlier this week.

The Paris Air Show, which opened to industry Monday, opens to the public Friday to Sunday.

Boeing makes first Paris Air Show sales but still trails Airbus 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 7:30pm]

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