Airbus had good news in Paris yesterday and, as usual, the company presented it with style, even flash. The flash was provided by an upstart...
PARIS — Airbus had good news in Paris yesterday and, as usual, the company presented it with style, even flash.
The flash was provided by an upstart Indian airline with global ambitions.
On the third day of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, Airbus announced significant orders for its superjumbo A380 and for its proposed new plane, the A350.
Kingfisher Airlines of India, a new carrier that has been flying for only five weeks, placed an order worth $3 billion for five A330s, five A350s and five A380s. The superjumbo and the new widebody model are both destined for nonstop flights between the United States and India.
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In addition, General Electric’s Commercial Aviation Services unit (GECAS) has ordered the A350, the rival airplane to the Boeing 787.
GECAS announced a firm order for 10 A350s. GECAS President Henry Hubschman said in a statement that “strong indications of interest from five customers for more than 100 Airbus A350s so far show solid customer demand for this program.”
That endorsement, however, is not as objective as the one given the previous day by rival leasing company ILFC to the 787. GE is the only engine maker so far for the A350, giving GECAS’s parent a strong incentive to make sure the program succeeds.
Still, the A350 looks just a little more solid with yesterday’s two orders. The sales tally now stands at 117 commitments.
The Kingfisher order was announced by Airbus Chief Executive Noël Forgeard and Vijay Mallya, chairman of the Kingfisher parent company, United Breweries.
Forgeard introduced Mallya as the “Richard Branson” of India, a reference to the flamboyant British billionaire entrepreneur who runs the Virgin branded companies.
Mallya, who is also a member of the Indian Parliament, looked the part. With long, wavy, graying hair, he was elegantly dressed in a dark suit with a bright yellow tie and breast-pocket handkerchief. He wore large diamond earrings, a huge gold watch and a diamond ring.
He described the deal as a matter of great national pride, reflecting “a modern India, one no longer referred to as some kind of poverty-stricken nation.”
Kingfisher is founded upon the explosive growth of the Indian economy. With TV screens in the back of its seats and a glamorous image derived from Mallya, the airline’s brand is akin to that of JetBlue and Virgin. Since service began in May, its fleet of two A320 aircraft is flying 91 percent full.
Mallya said that India will add 100 million “new consuming-class customers” by 2010, when delivery of the A380s will begin.
“It should be a complete no-brainer to fill an A380 in five years,” he said.
Kingfisher will configure the A380 for 496 passengers.
United Breweries has pitched its Kingfisher brand in India as a “lifestyle icon, a lifestyle brand,” Mallya said. What started as a beer brand now encompasses fashion, music and food.
Hence the constant comparison, which Mallya himself noted, between Kingfisher and Virgin and between himself and Branson.
Mallya said that Kingfisher is fully funded by United Breweries and that the parent company plans an initial public offering of the airline unit, probably this year, to raise more money.
Mallya was asked how he’ll manage the extraordinary ramp-up plan from a few single-aisle airplanes to a fleet of A380s.
“We have the conviction to actually do it and to do it with a great deal of confidence,” he replied.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org