Airbus Taking Off
The European company appears to have won the latest round in the heavyweight airline championship bout between the Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner. Airbus announced over the weekend that the Emirates airline had placed an order that will net Airbus over $20 billion (13.8 billion euros).
US manufacturer Boeing was pushed into the background at the Dubai air show on Sunday, Nov. 11, when the Dubai-owned carrier announced it would buy 11 A380 superjumbos plus 70 midsized A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) aircraft in what Airbus executives called the biggest order in the European constructor's history.
The total value of the new firm orders for the 70 A350s and 11 A380s is 20.2 billion dollars, according to Airbus.
An upbeat Airbus Sales Chief John Leahy raised forecast sales of the A350 XWB to "more than 300" by year's end. He had expected 200 orders at the start of the year.
Boeing, whose B787 Dreamliner is the major competitor to the A350, won a comparatively modest $3.2 billion order from Emirates for 12 of its B777-300s, bringing the Dubai airline's total outlay for new planes to over $23 billion at the show.
Seattle-based Boeing also said in a statement it had signed an agreement with Qatar Airways for 30 787 Dreamliners and five 777 cargo planes in a deal valued at over $6.1 billion at list prices.
But the lion's share of new orders announced Sunday went to Airbus, a fact welcomed by the company's CEO Tom Enders.
"Emirates airline is placing great faith in our A350 XWB and A380 programs as well as our company and we are rightfully proud," he said.
The latest orders mark a dramatic turnaround for Airbus, which was overtaken by rival Boeing in the race for new business in 2006. The European plane maker had made a spectacular plunge into the red last year and has been beset this year by plane production woes.
Trade union warns cutbacks may affect orders
However, some caution was added to the euphoria on Monday when a leading French trade union warned that planned job cuts and site sales at Airbus could jeopardize the company's ability to fill the new orders.
"We see a paradox in the accumulation of new orders ... and management's implementation of Power8, with its job cuts and site sales," Jean-Francois Knepper, an organizer with Force Ouvriere (FO), told reporters.
Power8 is a sweeping -- and contested -- restructuring campaign launched by Airbus last February in the face of costly production and delivery delays. It calls notably for the elimination of 10,000 jobs over four years and the sale of certain production sites in order to achieve savings of 5 billion euros by 2010.
"How are we going to honor these [Emirates] orders for the A350 when the plan to sell certain sites is not yet finalized?" Knepper asked. "Time is passing and we are getting orders, but if our leaders do not reconsider the plan to sell sites under Power8, we will not be able to fill the orders on time."
With Power8, he added, "the company is temporarily de-stabilized at a time when we have to hold together."
Emirates committing to long-term Airbus orders
As well as the 70 firm orders for the A350s -- which are scheduled to come into service in 2013 -- Emirates chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said the company had taken an option to buy a further 50 of the new-generation planes down the line. He added that the airline had decided to order three more A380 superjumbos, and to firm up a previous option to buy a further eight.
"The A350 XWB and A380 will play an important role in supporting Emirates' and Dubai's growth plans," Maktoum said. "As the leading airline for the 21st century, it made sense for Emirates to choose the A350 XWB -- an aircraft designed with 21st century technologies."
The 70 firm orders -- for 50 A350-900s and 20 A350-1000s -- will make Emirates the second biggest customer for the long-haul planes after Qatar Airways announced an order for 80 in June.
The contract brings the number of A380s ordered by Emirates to 58, making it the world's biggest customer for the superjumbo, which made its first commercial flight in the livery of Singapore Airlines last month.
Airbus also announced a $2-billion order from Saudi business carrier NAS for 20 Airbus A320s, as well as an option to buy a further 18 of the short-haul planes.
Private superjumbo buyer revealed as Saudi prince
It was also revealed at the Dubai air show that Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal will be the first private buyer of an A380 superjumbo.
The prospective buyer's identity had been kept secret for months but was unveiled to coincide with the Dubai air show.
Alwaleed, whose interests span Kingdom Holding to Euro Disney, hotels and banking, has ordered a VIP version of the A380 dubbed the Flying Palace. He already owns a Boeing 747-400, the newest type of the original jumbo jet currently in service.