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Airbus leads Boeing in opening battle of giants at air show


Airbus led rival Boeing Monday in the opening battle for orders at the world's biggest air show, where Brazil's Embraer also hit the ground running with new jets and deals.

The key industry event kicked off with a literal bang with thunder and lightning in the skies above Paris, but the two aviation giants quickly caught everyone's attention by announcing orders in quick succession in their traditional fight for supremacy at the show.

By the time the sun had pierced through the clouds, finally allowing planes to lift off in the air, Airbus had taken the lead with at least $18.3 billion (13.7 billion euros) in orders compared to $6.1 billion for Boeing.

The aviation giants are fighting to get an edge in the market for long-haul wide-body planes at this year's show just north of Paris, and Airbus took centre stage with a mammoth provisional order for 20 A380 double-decker superjumbos.

The memorandum of understanding with aircraft financing group Doric is worth about $8.0 billion at catalogue prices.

The European manufacturer also said US aircraft leasing group ILFC had ordered an extra 50 of its new A320neo airliners -- which are not yet in service -- at a catalogue price of $5.0 billion.

German airline Lufthansa, meanwhile, said it had completed an order announced in March for 100 medium-range Airbus A320 aircraft, worth 10 billion euros at list prices.

This took its total firm orders so far to $18.3 billion. If the A380 deal is firmed up -- as both companies said it would be -- total orders come to $26.3 billion.

The firm has yet to announce new orders for its next-generation A350 long-haul plane, which took off on its first test flight on Friday in a move seen as stealing the show from Boeing which has just overcome battery problems with its next-generation 787 Dreamliner.

Undeterred, the US firm announced several orders Monday for the 787 Dreamliner, its new 737 MAX and its existing long-haul 777 plane.

The head of Boeing's commercial aviation division Ray Conner had told journalists on Sunday that the US firm had "better products and at the end of the day, hopefully the better product wins."

Japan's Skymark Airlines said it had put down firm orders for four 737 MAX aircraft, becoming the first Japanese airline to set its sights on Boeing's new medium-haul plane, in a deal worth $402 million at catalogue prices.

Leasing firm GECAS, meanwhile, ordered 10 787 Dreamliners worth $2.9 billion at list prices, while Qatar Airways announced orders for nine 777s -- two firm, and seven options, worth $2.8 billion.

Overall though, deals are usually concluded at less than the list prices, depending on discounts and tough negotiations over made-to-measure features.

-- Embraer hits ground running --

Day one of the air show was not all focused on Boeing and Airbus, however.

Brazil plane maker Embraer chose to kick off the event by launching a new family of regional jets with 100 firm orders and 215 intentions to buy the aircrafts.

Baptised the E-Jets E2, the family of three new planes are modernised versions of its current E-Jets and are able to carry more passengers and consume less fuel.

US regional airline SkyWest was by far the largest customer, announcing firm orders of 100 new E175-E2 planes with the intent of buying 100 more in a deal worth $9.36 billion at catalogue prices.

Analysts said the deal was a good move for the world's third largest plane maker, which has done well despite ups and downs in the regional jet market.

"It's been very well run, is good at accessing global technologies and it's been willing to use specialists from around the world to achieve its needs," said Nick Cunningham, aviation analyst at the London-based Agency Partners.

But the Paris air show, in its 50th edition this year, is not just focused on the civilian sector and several military planes such as the long-awaited A400M transport plane and Russia's Su-35 fighter jet took to the skies to woo customers.

The event runs from June 17 to 23. It is expected to welcome some 350,000 visitors through its cavernous show halls.