Airbus sales boost confidence

 - June 18, 2007, 11:59 AM

Airbus looked intent on making up for two years of persistent hits to its credibility virtually all at once yesterday with a nearly uninterrupted string of sales, order “commitments” and MoU announcements, led by firm orders for 80 A350 XWBs from Qatar Airways and 60 A320s from GE Commercial Aviation Service. If nothing else, yesterday’s tally of firm orders for more than 200 Airbus airplanes boosted the confidence of Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy’s staff, which obviously kept itself busy over the past months working to ensure a big splash on the salon’s opening day.     

Of course, they got a lot of help from a sizeable contingent of Middle Eastern guests, including Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways, which inked a firm contract to buy 30 A320s, raising its total order commitment for the type to 40. Established in 2005 as the first privately held airline in the Middle East, Jazeera currently flies five of the European narrowbodies.

By the end of the day, Jazeera would prove to be not the only Kuwaiti buyer at the show, when the ALAFCO financing and leasing company signed a firm deal for 12 A350 XWBs and seven A320s. Specializing in Sharia-based financing, ALAFCO carries a diversified portfolio of commercial aircraft, including Boeing 737s and 777s and Airbus A310s and A320s.  

Also on hand at the show yesterday, Emirates Airline chairman and Dubai civil aviation department head HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum issued a firm vote of confidence in the A380 superjumbo when he signed a letter of intent for another eight, bringing Emirates’ commitment for the type to 55. Emirates expects the most recently ordered batch to arrive in Dubai between 2011 and 2012. “Airbus has been committed to the program since we signed [at the start of the program,]” said Sheikh Ahmed, contradicting assumptions that the A380’s well-publicized production problems and delivery delays had prompted airline management to consider abandoning it.

Sheikh Ahmed also revealed the range of seating capacities planned for Emirates’ fleet, the first member of which it now expects to receive in the third quarter of 2008. The Emirates A380s will seat between 489 to 621 passengers, “depending on sector length.”

Qatar Leads The Way
One airline whose ambitions rival those of Emirates–Qatar Airways–outdid its neighbor to the south, and everyone else at the show for that matter, when it signed a firm order for the 80 Rolls-Royce Trent-powered A350XWBs early in the day. Qatar Airways also placed a firm order for three more A380s, bringing its total to five. The order for the midsize airplanes includes 20 A350 XWB-800s, 40 A350 XWB-800s, 40 A350 XWB-900s and 20 A350 XWB-1000s, the first of which Qatar expects to receive as a launch customer in 2013. The airline plans to use the airplanes to complement and then replace its A330s on regional and long-haul routes.  

“I think six years from now is enough time for an aircraft manufacturer to develop a fine airplane,” said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker in reference to Boeing’s allusions to the airplane’s lack of a firm “definition.” Al-Baker added that Airbus tailored the definition document to Qatar’s requirement, and that it “has come a long way.”

“But yes, we are concerned, as any airline would be concerned,” said Al-Baker.
Showing some irritation with the line of discussion, Airbus CEO Louis Gallois seemed eager to settle Al-Baker’s concerns. “I don’t like the campaign now [by Boeing] that the airplane is not defined,” said Gallois. “The airplane is defined, the performance is defined and we are committed to the performance and have guaranteed our customers.”

Apparently Airbus guarantees have convinced US Airways to jump back on board the A350 program, as the Phoenix, Arizona-based airline yesterday agreed to terms to order 22 A350 XWB-800s as part of a larger deal involving 10 A330-200s and a mix of 60 A320-family airplanes, slated to replace US Airways Boeing 737-300s and -400s.

US Airways Order Stands

The term sheet provisions for the A350 XWBs supersede and expand on a US Airways order signed in 2005 for 20 of the original version of the A350. The term sheet remains contingent upon execution of definitive purchase agreements, expected in “the coming weeks.”

Airbus won’t have to wait that long for GE Commercial Aviation Services, which ended the company’s lucrative day with a firm order for 60 more A320 family aircraft.

“There is significant demand for efficient narrowbody aircraft in both traditional and developing markets around the world,” said Henry Hubschman, president and CEO of GECAS. “We are therefore pleased to expand our portfolio of A320- family aircraft.”
More A320 business came from Russia’s S7 Group, managing company of S7 Airlines, in the form of a direct sale of 20 CFM56-powered airplanes. S7 plans to operate the airplanes out of its bases in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, on both domestic and international services.

Air France joined the spending spree late in the day, when it signed an MoU for the purchase of two more Engine Alliance-powered A380s and 18 A320-family jets. Already a holder of delivery positions for 10 A380s, Air France will become the first operator in Europe to fly the type when it launches service in the spring of 2009 from Paris to North America and Asia. 

Airbus also landed a contract yesterday from Tunisia’s Nouvelair for the purchase of two A320s, configured in a 180-seat layout. Nouvelair, which links Tunisian resorts with Europe with 13 A320s and A321s, hasn’t yet chosen an engine for the new airplanes.