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Boeing has fought off a strong challenge from Airbus to win a $15bn order for 150 narrow-body aircraft from United Continental Holdings, the largest US airline by revenue.
United on Thursday announced it was buying 100 of Boeing’s planned new 737 Max aircraft, in a move that provided the US manufacturer with a much-needed sales boost for its more fuel-efficient single-aisle aircraft. United is also purchasing 50 current generation 737 aircraft.
But the last main trade day of the Farnborough air show was subdued, as the combined order tally of Boeing and Airbus fell well short of what they reported at the equivalent event in Paris last year, underlying how the economic downturn is curbing demand for aircraft.
United is expected to use the 150 aircraft it is buying to replace some of its ageing, gas-guzzling jets.
Jeff Smisek, chief executive, said: “These new aircraft … will solidify United’s future fleet as one of the most efficient and environmentally responsible fleets among our global competitors.”
Although the United deal with Boeing coincided with Farnborough, it was unveiled at the airline’s headquarters in Chicago. The transaction is worth $14.7bn at list prices but United is expected to secure a significant sales discount.
Boeing’s Max aircraft, launched last year, is seeking to catch-up with the popularity of Airbus’ A320neo, the more fuel-efficient narrow-body jet.
Boeing increased the number of Max aircraft on order from airlines and leasing companies from 474 to 649 at Farnborough and is looking to boost the total to 1,000 by the end of the year.
Airbus launched the Neo aircraft in 2010, and has so far secured orders for 1,454 jets.
Boeing came out ahead of Airbus at Farnborough, announcing orders and commitments by airlines and leasing companies to purchase 373 aircraft worth $35.6bn at list prices. Airbus unveiled orders and commitments by customers to buy 115 aircraft worth $16.9bn.
At last year’s Paris air show, Airbus enjoyed a record-breaking event, announcing orders and commitments by customers to buy 730 aircraft worth $72.2bn, led by strong demand for the Neo. Boeing unveiled orders and commitments for 138 aircraft worth $22.1bn at Paris.
Fabrice Brégier, Airbus’ chief executive, said a new production glitch with the company’s planned new A350 widebody aircraft meant he could not rule out the possibility of further delay with its entry into service date, which is currently set for mid-2014. However, he insisted the A350 would not suffer the three-year delay encountered by Boeing’s 787 wide-body jet.
John Leahy, Airbus’ chief operating officer for customers, said a wing cracking issue on the A380 aircraft was making it harder to hit the company’s target to sell 30 superjumbos this year. But he said the main reason for the sales target being challenging was slowing demand for aircraft due to the economic environment.