Boeing wins air show overshadowed by incognito jet orders

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FARNBOROUGH, England (July 19): Boeing claimed victory on Thursday after outselling rival Airbus at this week's Farnborough Airshow, where the world's largest planemakers repeated last year's comparable tally of around 900 firm and draft orders with the help of leasing industry demand.

The world's largest planemaker, Chicago-based Boeing, said it had won 528 orders and commitments at the showcase event, while Airbus reported 431 new deals, or 371 on a like-for-like basis after stripping out the newly acquired Bombardier CSeries.

But the list was heavily overshadowed by deals where the names of the buyers were undisclosed — an unusual phenomenon at a high profile event specifically designed to attract publicity. It was seen as evidence that both giants were anxious to boost their tallies.

"Air show? It was more of a UFO show this year," one senior delegate said.

Airbus blamed the reticence of many of this week's customers on trade tensions which had made some companies nervous about appearing to side with the United States or other economic powers in a growing global trade battle.

But people familiar with the matter said negotiators in many cases either sought to speed up semi-finished business or used the show as a deadline to get airlines to commit even if they were not yet ready to be named as part of the air show battle.

One airline that rarely shuns publicity is AirAsia, whose co-founders held parallel press conferences in Farnborough and Kuala Lumpur to hand Airbus an extra order for 34 A330neo jets.

The deal involved tough negotiations since AirAsia had threatened to defect to Boeing for its long-haul growth and the 11th-hour deal meant AirAsia reconfirming a crucial existing order for 66 of the slow-selling wide-body planes.

But the planemaker's hopes of securing an immediate extra order for 100 smaller A321neo from AirAsia as it haggled over the expanded wide-body order were dashed.

The A330neo has been hit by a series of market losses to the newer Boeing 787, leaving Airbus dependent on AirAsia to restore momentum in the upgraded long-haul plane.

The battle for sales in that part of the market was underscored on Thursday when Boeing said it had firmed up an order for at least 10 787s from Hawaiian Airlines, which it secured after the airline cancelled an order for the A330neo.

Airbus also posted an order for 50 A321neo single-aisle planes from Vietnam's VietJet, 24 hours after placing an order for 100 737 MAX jets just across the tarmac at Boeing.

Industry executives said leasing companies were active buyers, including some that have not previously turned up to buy directly from manufacturers, preferring instead to buy freshly built jets from airlines and then rent them back at a profit.

That so-called sale-and-leaseback market has been squeezed as a flood of new investment money piles in looking for returns.

Boeing also saw a flurry of demand for freighters as cargo shippers expand despite trade tensions.

Airbus meanwhile won a provisional order for 10 A320neo jets from SaudiGulf, industry sources said. Airbus announced the order on Thursday without identifying the name of the buyer.