Paris: A $9 billion, 100-plane order from the leasing arm of US insurance group AIG has lifted Airbus above Boeing in new jetliner sales in 2011, putting pressure on its rival to clarify its next plane design.
Fuelled by a turnaround from the worst aviation recession in memory, the two planemakers are battling for control of the next stage of a $1.7 trillion market for 100-200 seat planes favoured by low-cost airlines and traditional carriers on medium routes. Europe’s Airbus saw its April order book boosted by confirmation of a deal by AIG’s International Lease Finance Corp to buy its newest narrowbody planes, even though it also lost a prestige order for 10 A380 superjumbos from the same company.
The purchase confirms a stronger outlook for ILFC after it was hit by the financial crisis and is a sign of confidence in upcoming revamped versions of the best-selling A320 family. The “A320neo” will feature new engines with greater fuel-efficiency.
Boeing has poured cold water on the Airbus project, saying it will be obsolete in a decade.
It has promised to announce its own plans for the largest segment of the aircraft market around the middle of the year, but powerful ILFC said when announcing a preliminary version of the deal that it was not prepared to wait for Boeing’s plans.
“Common sense says this will put further pressure on Boeing to fast-forward their 737 update,” said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners in London.
Airbus said it had sold 169 jets between 1 January and the end of April, pushing it past Boeing’s 153 gross orders. After cancellations, Boeing remained ahead of Airbus with net orders of 106 aircraft compared with the European tally of 90.
The Boeing figures are based on data up to 26 April . The US company was due to update its orders later on Thursday.
There were also fresh signs on Thursday that airlines, especially those facing the worst cost pressures, are favouring a new generation of lightweight aircraft as rising fuel prices threaten to drive the industry’s recovery off course.
Irish carrier Aer Lingus cancelled a remaining order for three undelivered, aluminium-built Airbus A330 passenger jets and switched to the carbon-composite A350-900, boosting its order for the $270-million jet to nine from six, Airbus data showed.
Dutch lessor AerCap trimmed an order for the A330, an aircraft which has sold well as Boeing ran into production delays on its next-generation 787 Dreamliner but which is based on older technology than either the 787 or the A350.
Aer Lingus says it may ramp up a controversial cost-cutting programme after confirming profit this year will be significantly below 2010 levels.
Shares in Airbus parent EADS fell 1% on Thursday in line with a weaker European market.
ILFC confirmed a decision to cancel an order for 10 A380s worth $3.8 billion at current prices. The order had been in jeopardy because airlines prefer to customize the double-decker aircraft, making it harder for leasing companies to own the aircraft and switch it between customers’ fleets.
With 234 sales, Airbus is seen as a long way off reaching breakeven point on the world’s largest airliner after production costs were driven up by a slow recovery from manufacturing delays.
Airbus said it had delivered 167 aircraft in the first four months of the year, including five A350s.