A hefty order announced Thursday by Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific extends Boeing's run of huge wins over Airbus in the wide-body...

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A hefty order announced Thursday by Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific extends Boeing’s run of huge wins over Airbus in the wide-body market.

Cathay ordered a dozen 777-300ERs from Boeing with options to buy 20 more, a deal with a list-price total value of up to $8 billion. The airline will also lease four more of the 777s from International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC).

That makes the 777, Boeing’s premier in-service jet, almost as hot a seller as the smaller new wide body under development, the 787.

The Cathay 777 win is strategically significant, too, as the first of three highly anticipated wide-body jet orders from Asia. Singapore Airlines and Qantas of Australia are also weighing large wide-body orders, including 777s, 787s and the new 747-8 jumbo-jet derivatives. Industry sources think Boeing is favored in those cases too.

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With the 777 outselling the Airbus A340 and the 787 two years ahead of the A350, the European plane-maker has only the A380 superjumbo as a clear category leader among the wide-body jets. But that’s selling slowly.

Meanwhile, Boeing is capitalizing on its advantages in the slightly smaller categories.

Boeing has booked 185 firm orders this year for the 787, versus 25 that Airbus has booked for its 787’s proposed rival, the A350.

Even before the Cathay win, Boeing had booked 109 firm new orders for 777s this year, compared with 14 orders for A340s. This tally excludes previously announced but not yet finalized 777 orders from Air India for 23 of the jets and from Qatar Airways for 20.

Cathay is a premier Asian carrier, and it’s a safe bet the options in Thursday’s deal will be exercised over time.

“This is a long-term commitment to the continued profitable growth of the airline,” Cathay’s Chief Executive Philip Chen said in a statement.

Top-of-the-line 777-300ERs are listed for sale at $250 million, although at least a 30 percent discount is likely from the list prices.

Last week, Middle East airline Emirates also went for Boeing rather than Airbus, ordering 42 long-range 777s, a deal worth up to $10 billion at list prices.

The Boeing 777 is a fuel-efficient twin-jet, while the Airbus A340 is a four-engine jet. With fuel prices so high, that difference is tipping airlines toward Boeing.

This week’s Flight International, an industry trade magazine, reported that Airbus is studying a revamp of the A340 — with new engines and a lighter aluminum/lithium alloy fuselage that would compete better against the 777.

Such a new derivative would be a major undertaking, similar to the revamp of the 747 recently announced by Boeing. It would further tax the European plane-maker’s resources as it strives to get the A380 superjumbo into service while at the same time developing the new A350.

In addition to the big 777 order, Cathay said Thursday it will acquire three Airbus A330-300s to operate regional routes.

Cathay now flies 95 aircraft and the fleet will increase to 100 aircraft by next September, its 60th anniversary.

Overall, its fleet is almost evenly divided between Boeing and Airbus models.

Cathay’s long-haul fleet comprises 22 Boeing 747-400s, 15 Airbus A340-300s and three Airbus A340-600s. There are 16 Boeing 777-200/300 and 26 Airbus A330-300 aircraft in its regional fleet. The airline also operates 13 Boeing 747 freighters.

Later this month, the airline will take delivery of the world’s first 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter), converted from one of its own 747-400 passenger jets. The conversion is a Boeing design, with modifications done by Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering in Xiamen, China. Cathay has firm orders to convert six such 747s and options for a further six.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Head to head in the widebody market
Boeing Airbus
Midsize widebody 787, 185 orders Proposed A350, 25 orders
A330, 42 orders
Large widebody 777, 109 orders A340, 14 orders
Jumbo/superjumbo 747, 43 orders A380, 10 orders
Figures as of Oct. 31 for Airbus, Nov. 30 for Boeing

Source: Boeing, Airbus