Northwest Airlines, until now Airbus' best customer in the United States, yesterday made official its defection to Boeing for a big widebody...

Share story

Northwest Airlines, until now Airbus’ best customer in the United States, yesterday made official its defection to Boeing for a big widebody airplane order.

The carrier placed a firm order for 18 Boeing 787s, worth $2.2 billion at list prices, with options to purchase an additional 50 of Boeing’s newest jet.

Six airplanes per year are scheduled for delivery in 2008 through 2010. But with all those options, Northwest’s commitment to the new jet should stretch for years beyond that.

In a statement, Alan Mulally, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said: “We’re thrilled to be on the Northwest team.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

The thrills may continue in the next few months. Information from inside Boeing suggests that soon many of the already known 787 customer commitments will be firmed up — and that more, previously unannounced, 787 orders are in the works.

Among the unannounced orders is one from Qatar Airways, which has reserved delivery slots in 2008 and 2009.

A Surge of 787 Orders

Korean Air 10 firm 787s ($1.3 billion); 10 options.

Air Canada 14 firm ($1.8 billion); 46 options.

Air India 20 firm 787s ($2.6 billion); 7 options.

Northwest Airlines 18 firm 787s ($2.2 billion); 50 options.

Source: The Associated Press

News that Boeing had edged Airbus for Northwest’s order first leaked out last month. The Boeing win is a big blow to Airbus’ A350, the proposed rival to the 787.

Northwest already flies a fleet of 15 A330s, and has an additional 17 on order. It intends to take those, said an airline spokesman.

A carrier committed to the A330 might have been expected to go for the new Airbus A350, an updated derivative of the A330, to preserve commonality in its fleet.

That clearly had been the expectation of Henri Courpron, president and chief executive of Airbus North America.

In recent years, Boeing has complained often of Airbus’ low-ball pricing after losing an order. This time, Courpron blamed Boeing pricing for the losses in two recent sales where he participated in negotiations.

“Airbus made a very aggressive offer for the A350 at both Northwest and Air Canada,” Courpron said in a recent interview. “I can only assume that Boeing made a more aggressive offer, otherwise they wouldn’t have won those two campaigns at places where we were the incumbent.”

Courpron conceded that, with the upsurge in 787 orders, Boeing may best Airbus in orders this year for the first time since 2000.

According to an internal Boeing document obtained by The Seattle Times, that seems likely.

Boeing has so far publicly announced 82 firm orders for the 787 and a further 173 commitments to buy, referred to as “accepted proposals.”

These represent advanced-sales prospects: The customer has reserved delivery slots and paid a refundable deposit of 1 percent of the list price, about $1.3 million.

Boeing expects to turn most of those into firm orders by midyear.

An internal document shows a further 35 accepted proposals not yet mentioned publicly. That would boost the tally of orders from 255 to 290.

The accepted proposals include an order for 10 787-8s going to Qatar Airways, now an all-Airbus customer on the Arabian Gulf.

Other still-open proposals from Qatar could bring its total to 60 787s, according to a Boeing insider.

The fact that 10 have already been allocated production slots suggests Boeing confidence that this deal will go through.

In addition, the head of the 787 program, Mike Bair, has said that his sales team has about 400 further open proposals under consideration with 25 other customers.

Among those looser possibilities is an order for 10 787s from Bellevue-based aircraft leasing company AWAS — originally known as Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services.

AWAS sales executive Charlie Soncrant yesterday acknowledged that his company is looking at the 787, but warned that talk of a deal is premature.

“We’re real early in our investigations,” Soncrant said. “We’re just sizing things up.”

Northwest is the world’s fourth-largest airline with hubs at Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Memphis, Tokyo and Amsterdam.

In addition to its A330s, it operates a fleet of 150 Airbus A320 and A319 narrowbodies. It also flies 72 older Boeing 757s and 16 Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

Northwest’s most valuable franchise is across the Pacific, including long-haul flights into Beijing. The airline is scheduled to take its first 787 in July 2008, in time for the Beijing Olympics.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or