Airbus debut nets glitches, orders on first day of annual Paris Air Show

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Francois Mori ~ Associated PressAn aerial view of the Airbus A380 of Korean Airlines, at left, with other aircrafts on Monday, the first day of the 49th Paris Air Show at le Bourget airport east of Paris.

LE BOURGET, France -- Airbus and Boeing signed over $25 billion in orders to kick off the Paris Air Show on Monday, but the European jet maker's appearance at the industry's biggest annual event suffered a setback when its star superjumbo clipped a wing.

The haul from the first day of the show was an improvement from recent years despite a challenging environment for the industry, which faces high fuel prices, a slowing global economy and uncertainty caused by violence in the Middle East and Japan's natural disasters.

Airbus topped the totals, signing orders and commitments for 142 aircraft worth $15 billion at list prices, the company said Monday.

Of note were firm orders for 90 of its A320neo, a version of the workhorse jet that's been revamped to make it more fuel efficient.

Rival Boeing countered with more than $11 billion worth of orders and commitments for 56 of its jets, including an order by Qatar Airways for six of its 777 jets in a $1.7 billion deal.

Airlines are particularly interested in energy-efficient models at this year's show -- displays included biofuel and hybrid engines as well as a solar plane.

One star, Airbus' superjumbo A380, was grounded after breaking a wing tip on a taxiway structure, the latest in a string of embarrassments for the company.

Delays and setbacks

The plane suffered the damage Sunday after a slow-speed collision with a building at the Le Bourget airport, where the world's largest and oldest aviation showcase is taking place, spokesman Alexander Reinhardt, of Airbus' holding company EADS, said Monday.

Airbus quickly found a replacement jet for demonstration flights during the air show, an A380 operated by Korean Air. But the planemaker is facing other setbacks.

The Airbus A400M military transport plane had to cancel a demonstration flight because of what the manufacturer described as a minor gearbox problem, although the aircraft made a flyover during President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the air show on Monday.

On Saturday, Airbus announced that two of the three versions of its new widebody jet, the A350, would be delayed about two years.

The stretched A350-1000 is being pushed back to 2017 to give engine supplier Rolls Royce time to develop a more powerful motor that will extend the jet's range, Airbus said. The standard version of the plane, the A350-900, is still expected to arrive in the second half of 2013.

Airbus' chief salesman John Leahy defended the delay, saying the revamped A350-1000 would best rival Boeing's 777-300ER by flying 400 nautical miles further while burning 25 percent less fuel.

"Yes, we were supposed to come out in 2015, but customers said give us some extra performance and we can take the delay," he said.

Still, Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, said at a news conference with Boeing officials that he regretted hearing of "significant delays" in the Airbus A350 program.

Qatar Airways is the launch customer for the A350, and is due to receive the first jet in the second half of 2013. Half of the 80 A350s that Qatar Airways has ordered would be affected by the delay.

More than 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries have signed up to take part in the weeklong event showcasing both commercial and defense aircraft. Airbus expects to bag bountiful orders for a new, more fuel-efficient version of its workhorse A320 shorthaul jet, while Boeing is spotlighting its new midrange 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 intercontinental passenger jets.

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