Share story

LE BOURGET, France — As the business portion of the Paris Air Show closed Thursday, Airbus confirmed that its new A350 all-composite jet is expected to swing by Le Bourget on Friday around 1 p.m. here to cap the Air Show.

The president of France, François Hollande, will come to see the A350 fly in.

As bigger crowds and intense security mark the first public day of the show, the A350 swooping over the Dreamliner parked on the airfield will be a sign that the great game is on again between Airbus and Boeing.

The Air Show made clear that both companies are all in, betting heavily on their new widebodies. It did not make clear the outcome.

As Airbus and Boeing executives depart the Paris Air Show, each can claim they’ve achieved what they came for.

Boeing’s big day came Tuesday, when it launched the 787-10 with an impressive tally of 102 orders from a lineup of blue-ribbon customers. For its full lineup of jets, Boeing claimed a total of 285 new firm orders for the week, along with 132 new commitments to buy later.

Thursday, Airbus announced its usual flurry of last-minute deals, claiming a total of 241 new firm orders and 225 new commitments.

Although Boeing sold more jets, that result was skewed by one order: Ryanair’s massive deal for 175 single-aisle 737NGs. Airbus sold more of the valuable widebody jets.

As a result, the total value of sales in Paris came out roughly equal, at least on estimated real pricing.

The list price of Boeing’s new firm orders in Paris was about $34 billion. The real value of those orders after typical discounts — based on market data from aircraft valuation firm Avitas — is estimated at about $17.6 billion.

The list price of Airbus’ new firm orders in Paris was about $37.1 billion. The real value of those orders after typical discounts — again based on Avitas data — is about $17.6 billion.

Call it a draw.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy declared himself “very pleased” with the outcome. Flying the A350 for the first time this month and winning 69 new orders and commitments in Paris was a “pretty powerful” outcome for the new jet program, he said.

“We were looking for a big splash with the A350,” he said.

The first flight “gives us a little street cred” with airline customers, he said.

At the last few European Air Shows, huge orders for single-aisle, narrowbody jets have dominated. Now it’s the turn of the twin-aisle, widebody jets.

Boeing’s champions: the 787 Dreamliner family and the forthcoming 777X, a new version of its star large widebody that will feature giant composite wings with folding tips.

The 777X is expected to launch this fall with another hefty set of orders.

“We now have offers in the hands of our customers on the 777X,” Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice president of marketing, said in Paris.

Against these two Boeing families of jets, Airbus has the newly debuted A350 family, coming in three sizes.

Leahy dismissed the 777X, which will retain the 777 metal fuselage, as “a paper airplane, a very heavy paper airplane.”

“It’s not going to be competitive with an all-new … aircraft like the (A350)-1000,” Leahy said.

In Airbus’ closing news conference, he insisted that the design concept Boeing presented in Paris is unfinished and unwieldy. He derided the planned folding wingtips as “silly things.”

“We doubt Boeing is going to build the airplane you see today,” he said.

Tinseth shook his head when he heard of Leahy’s remarks, as if amused by the man’s never-ending chutzpah. But typically for Boeing execs, he declined to reply in kind, merely defending the 777X and saying the basics of its design are now set.

It’s hard to predict the outcome of this sporty game. On paper, the airplanes all look like successes. But even on the 787 there is little data yet on reliability, and there’s no data — only promises — on the fuel burn of the A350 or 777X.

Airbus has certainly handled A350 development way better than it turned out for Boeing on the 787.

Walter Stephan — CEO of Austrian composites structures firm FACC, which supplies major pieces to both programs — said in an interview in Paris he believes the A350 program will meet Airbus’ goals.

“It’s well organized. They’ll do it. I believe what they say,” Stephan said.

He added that of course the extensive flight test program ahead may produce some difficult issues over the next year, but that’s unpredictable.

Stephan was also upbeat about 777X.

“The 777X is coming in with a significant advantage from its history,” he said. “Today, it’s the best airplane with the capability of flying long-range routes.”

This widebody competition has huge investments at stake. Leahy said Boeing will have to spend $5 billion to $6 billion to develop the 777X with new engines and a new composite wing, including a composite fabrication plant that may well be in Western Washington.

It’s a long game. It will be at least five years, probably six, before a 777X will fly in an Air Show.

But long before then, a wave of orders will come rolling in. Airbus and Boeing could both be successful. Or one could stumble badly. We’ll only begin to find out in the next couple of years.

Next week, the long row of “chalets” in Le Bourget will begin to be dismantled and put in storage for two years until the next Paris Air Show.

These grandly named edifices are glorified portables. Though they look impressive, covered with corporate logos on the outside and primped into modern luxury inside, racing through them one can sometimes feel the flimsiness of a floor beneath a lush carpet.

Not everything is solid at an Air Show.

The Air Show order figures above exclude 29 orders and commitments announced by Boeing that were not incremental to its order book, but were just conversions of existing orders to a different model.

Coming out of the Air Show, Boeing now has a net order total for the year of 692 jets. Airbus has a net order total of 734 jets.

State contingent hunts for partners at Air Show

More than 100 people from Washington state attended this Paris Air Show — the largest contingent ever — trying to capture some of the aerospace work burgeoning globally as both Boeing and Airbus ramp up their production lines to rates never seen before.

“A tremendous amount of business was done,” said Alex Pietsch, director of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Aerospace Office, as the trade portion of the show ended Thursday. “There’ll be deals that come out of this that we’ll realize in the years to come. It was really exciting.”

Pietsch said more than a dozen companies, mostly European, either approached the delegation or came to one of about 500 prearranged meetings “looking for access to the Boeing supply chain and the skilled workforce in the state of Washington.”

“We’ll be helping them try to match up with partners,” said Pietsch.

Several agreements or investments by foreign companies in Washington state were announced at the Air Show:

Airbus expanded an existing supply contract for aluminum plates and sheets with Kaiser Aluminum of Spokane.

Umbra Cuscinetti, the U.S. unit of Italy’s Umbra Group, a provider of motion and power technologies, said it will open in July a newly renovated, 68,000-square-foot facility in Everett, potentially employing 100 people.

Spanish company M. Torres, which makes aerospace tooling such as drilling machines, announced it will build
an Everett manufacturing plant and add about 100 people by the end of the year. Torres last year acquired local aerospace company Pacifica Engineering in Bothell, which will be its North American headquarters.

Carbures, another Spanish company, which makes composite structures and earlier this year acquired Fiberdyne of Tukwila, will reorganize and expand that facility by early next year.

Pietsch said the fastest way such companies can bring new products to market is “to buy an existing company and build it up.”

“Greenfield sites in the Southeast are great, but these companies are not willing to wait for the new workforce to be trained,” said Pietsch. “They want to get going now.”

At a dinner for the delegation Wednesday evening in Paris, the guest speaker was Olivier Zarrouati, CEO of French aerospace conglomerate Zodiac Aerospace, which has acquired four companies in Washington: Heath Tecna of Bellingham, C&D Zodiac of Marysville, Monogram of Everett and IDD Aerospace of Redmond.

“We will hire as many qualified workers as you can produce in Washington,” Zarrouati told the delegation.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or Jay