CHICAGO (July 17): Boeing Co and Airbus SE battled to a stalemate as the Farnborough air show kicked off Monday, tallying more than US$55 billion in jetliner sales. The second day may well signal a winner, with a flurry of more deals expected at the biggest event of its kind this year.
Airlines and leasing firms committed to taking about US$29 billion of planes from Airbus, including dozens of the European manufacturer’s top-selling A320neo family of narrow-body jets. Boeing was close behind, with about US$26 billion in deals at the UK expo, including confirmation of an US$8.8 billion order from India’s Jet Airways.
Business was dominated more than ever by the latest version of the workhorse A320 and Boeing’s rival 737 narrow-body jet, which together have generated more than US$1.2 trillion in sales. The latest generation of planes are more fuel-efficient than their predecessors, helping to spur unprecedented demand and swell their combined order backlog past 12,000 planes. Despite production hiccups, Airbus is pushing its engine makers to speed output so it can eventually deliver more than 70 A320s a month from about 50 currently.
“A rate of 60 is not going to be enough, so we are discussing rate 70 or even more,” Airbus commercial-aircraft chief Guillaume Faury said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “These are the problems of growth that we like to manage. It’s going to take a bit of time.”
Air shows are notorious for late deals that make it hard to judge who’s winning after one day. Last year’s Paris expo was dominated by orders for Boeing’s new Max 10, the biggest version of the 737. The year before, floods forced Farnborough to close early on its first day, delaying announcements.
While deal volume on Monday surpassed last year’s US$49 billion, there were no new models to whip up excitement. Boeing’s planned midmarket plane is still on the drawing board, and Airbus had even rolled out its newest jetliner, the A220 developed by Bombardier, a week before the trade expo.
“It’s been subdued,” Kevin Michaels, managing director with AeroDynamic Advisory, said in an interview.
Paris is the larger, more exuberant of the annual events that rotate between France and the UK. That was underscored by a truncated flying display Monday, noticeable for the lack of fighter jets thundering overhead to interrupt business meetings on the show grounds.
Still, blockbuster orders are brewing, like a potential US$23 billion deal Airbus is discussing, according to people familiar with the matter, with Malaysia’s AirAsia. Asian buyers like Jet and Taiwanese startup StarLux Airlines led Monday’s action.
Boeing finished last year’s Paris air show with orders and commitments valued in excess of US$75 billion, spurred by the Max 10 launch, compared with a tally of more than US$40 billion at Airbus. Those deals amounted to more than double the US$50 billion posted at the most recent 2016 expo in Farnborough.
Beyond the orders, manufacturers, suppliers and airlines use the event to haggle over contracts and float ideas for new planes and ventures. Military chiefs and governments hammer out arms deals and announce defense initiatives. Farnborough is also a showcase for new technology and ideas, from flying taxis to space flight.
Here is a sampling of the day’s highlights:
GE Cautious on 797
General Electric Co said it remains unconvinced that demand for Boeing’s potential midrange aircraft, nicknamed the 797, will be enough to justify developing a new engine for the jet. The turbine maker is “still wrestling with” what the size of the market is, GE Aviation chief David Joyce said Monday. “People feel great when you launch, but shareholders don’t feel great until you’re successful,” he said. Boeing envisions the NMA, to be designed for 5,000-mile routes, as succeeding its 757 and 767 models and taking on Airbus’s popular A321neo.
Buying on Spec
Toby Bright used to strike deals for the Boeing 737 jetliner when he was the planemaker’s chief salesman more than a decade ago. Now he’s a buyer. Jackson Square Aviation, the aircraft financier that Bright leads, announced an order for 30 of the Max, Boeing’s latest 737 model. The planes will be delivered between 2023 and 2025, and buyers are already lined up, Bright said in an interview. The San Francisco-based company, founded in 2010, buys factory-fresh jetliners from airlines and leases them back to the carriers. It now has a portfolio of more than 180 jets.
In most instances, the world’s two largest planemakers aren’t above employing hardball geopolitics if it will gain them an edge in selling a few planes. But Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Airbus commercial chief Faury both said they want no part of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In separate interviews, they said nothing good will come from the tension that’s been gathering momentum over recent weeks.
Muilenburg told Bloomberg TV that finding a solution to the dispute is essential because the aerospace industry relies on the free flow of goods. Said Faury: “There will be no winner if there’s a trade war around the world.”
UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled a full-size model of a new jet fighter in a bid to show that the nation plans to remain a leading military power after Brexit. The plane — nicknamed the Tempest — is a joint venture of Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Rolls Royce Holdings Plc, Italy’s Leonardo SpA and the UK arm of MBDA, Europe’s biggest missile company. Airbus, which jilted BAE after the Brexit vote, said the two could still combine efforts on a warplane after the UK’s split from the EU is complete.
C Series Joins A Team
Airbus is seeking to jump-start the order book for its newly acquired C Series small jetliner, now dubbed the A220. Going into Farnborough, the planemaker was trying to iron out the last hurdles to a 60-jet order from David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways Corp, and a group of investors who are trying to start a new US low-cost airline. The A220 program got an important vote of confidence from Air Lease Corp founder Steven Udvar-Hazy, who told Bloomberg that the A220 is “a more attractive prospect” under Airbus. “This has changed the whole landscape in terms of its credibility,” he said.