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Airbus jumps ahead in Paris while Boeing flounders

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Guillaume Faury, chief executive officer of Airbus SE, at the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in Paris, France.

[PARIS] Airbus SE cleaned up on the first day of the 2019 Paris Air Show, locking in US$13 billion in orders for new jets to zero for Boeing Co., and introducing a long-range narrow-body meant to deflate enthusiasm for its U.S. rival's potential new midsize jet.

The Monday haul for Airbus featured major orders from Air Lease Corp., the influential U.S. leasing company, which agreed to buy planes worth US$11 billion before customary discounts, including the new A321XLR. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. bought eight A330 wide-bodies with options for six more.

There's room to run up the score, said Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury. While Boeing's workhorse 737 Max, idled in March after two deadly crashes, languishes on the tarmac, Faury said the European planemaker is seeing "very strong demand" for its rival A320 family of single-aisle jets.

"As far as we are concerned, you should expect a very positive Paris Air Show with a lot of orders," Faury said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

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A year ago, the tables were turned. Airbus, going through a jarring management transition -- fallout from a multi-year bribery investigation -- announced 431 orders valued at US$62 billion at the alternating Farnborough air show in the UK. That lagged Boeing's commitments for 528 jetliners valued at US$79 billion through the week last year.

The Air Lease order in particular provided a vote of confidence in the A321XLR, a twin-engine jet that can travel 4,700 nautical miles, more than any other narrow-body on the market. The plane is positioned as a more fuel-efficient successor to Boeing's discontinued 757, able to connect smaller cities that can't support service by big wide-body jets.

The model is also meant to take the wind out of the sails of Boeing's planned "new midmarket airplane," or NMA. That jet, dubbed the 797 by analysts, is on hold while the Chicago-based company works through the Max crisis. Airbus's decision to start sales of the XLR could help sway customers who had been looking at both options.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, while continuing to mend fences with customers and suppliers, gave no ground on either the Max or the NMA. The former will return to service before the end of 2019 and remain the backbone of the company's short-haul strategy for years to come, he said in a separate Bloomberg Television interview.

Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said that the Max's branding could be dropped depending on an assessment of consumer and airline sentiment, while Boeing emphasized in a subsequent statement that it had no immediate plans for a name change.

At the same time, Boeing continues work on the mid-market plane, which would sit between single-aisle and wide-body aircraft, with a goal of starting service around 2025.

"The long-term, multi-decade strategy hasn't changed," Muilenburg said.

Airbus's Air Lease deal also included the A220 plane that the Toulouse, France-based company acquired last year from Canada's Bombardier Inc. and has been marketing harder, providing a further fillip.

Aviation consultancy IBA Group predicts that firm and outline orders will total 575 planes, with 435 going to Airbus. That compares with close to 1,000 at Farnborough -- though Jefferies International analyst Sandy Morris pointed out that last year's show also produced only modest business at the start.

"Like Farnborough 2018, the Paris Air Show started relatively slowly," Morris said, suggesting Monday's action would be eclipsed in coming days. "Perhaps the fashion is now for Day 3 to be the high-water mark."

BLOOMBERG