Airbus muscled its way to the front again on the third day of the Paris Air Show, adding orders for its newest plane 24 hours after U.S. rival Boeing stole the spotlight with a mega-deal for the grounded 737 Max.
The new A321XLR now has eight customers lined up after American Airlines Group Inc. signed on, bringing overall orders to 206 for the narrow-body jet, which can fly farther than the Max and connect destinations that weren’t previously cost-effective. The world’s largest carrier is taking 50 of the planes, tying Indigo Partners LLC for the biggest order.
With the Max grounded since March after two deadly crashes, this year’s biennial event was supposed to be dominated by Airbus. That narrative got upended on Tuesday when Boeing announced a show-stopping $24 billion order for the stricken jet. With Wednesday’s action, Airbus has poured some salve on its wounds — firmly regaining the lead on total order count, thanks largely to the plane it came to Paris to showcase.
“The counter keeps clocking and continues to clock,” Airbus sales chief Christian Scherer said at a ceremony Wednesday marking the deal with Indigo Partners, a U.S. backer of discount airlines. Scherer wouldn’t give any totals, but he told those present to wait for the end of the show. “It’s a big number,” he said.
While 74 of the XLRs ordered are upgrades of existing commitments, the totals are still impressive: A net 132 planes valued at $18.7 billion before customary discounts. Airbus is getting an additional $1.76 billion boost from upgrades to the XLR from other A320-family models.
Overall, Airbus has racked up $43.6 billion in commitments at the show, while Boeing lags at $36 billion.
Bill Franke’s Indigo will parcel out the XLRs it ordered to three airlines in its stable of discounters: Budapest-based Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Chile’s JetSmart and Frontier Airlines of the U.S., which aims to fly them coast to coast and could add Hawaii and Alaska.
The Indigo deal comes almost two years after the investment firm bought 430 narrow-bodies in Airbus’s biggest-ever order. It comprises 32 new orders worth about $4.5 billion at list prices, and the conversion of 18 of the earlier planes to the longer-range jet. Indigo-owned carriers now operate a combined 295 Airbus planes and with the new commitments have ordered 636.
American will take 20 new A321XLR planes and convert 30 existing A321neo orders. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline is expected to use the plane as a replacement for its aging fleet of 34 Boeing 757-200 jets.
Earlier, Australia’s Qantas Airways said it would take as many as 36 XLRs, including 26 conversions, giving the deal a net value of about $1.4 billion, based on a list price of $142 million per XLR.
Qantas is focused on tapping demand from Asia, the world’s fastest-growing travel market. With the added range of the XLR, the airline said it will be able to fly narrow-body aircraft on routes such as Cairns-Tokyo and Melbourne-Singapore.
“That changes the economics of lots of potential routes into Asia to make them not just physically possible but financially attractive,” Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in a statement.
Separately, Boeing landed a commitment from Qatar Airways for five 777 freighters while China Airlines will take as many as six. Turkmenistan Airlines said it intended to buy a 777-200LR.