France, Jun 17 – Airbus was the big winner at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday, notching up 31 firm orders as it defended both its response to the recent crash of one of its planes and a decision to seek government development aid.
The European consortium followed up an order for 24 A320 aircraft it won on Monday from Qatar Airways with an order from AirAsia X, the long-haul arm of leading low-cost Asian carrier AirAsia, for 10 Airbus A350 aircraft.
AirAsia X said it had also taken an option to acquire five more of the wide-bodied A350, which is to be launched in 2013 to rival Boeing\’s 787.
At catalogue prices the order for the 10 planes would be worth 2.4 billion dollars (1.7 billion euros).
Airbus in addition announced that Philippines carrier Cebu Pacfific had placed a firm order for five medium-range A320s, which carries a catalogue price of 384.5 million dollars (276.6 million euros).
Vietnam Airlines meanwhile firmed up plans revealed Monday to buy 16 Airbus A321 aircraft and announced an intention to buy two long-haul A350s.
In another big deal, United Arab Emirates airline Etihad Airways said it had agreed engine and maintenance deals for its fleet worth some 5.78 billion dollars (4.17 billion euros).
The biggest order was with US industrial conglomerate GE, which will supply Etihad Airways with engines for 35 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777s alongside a maintenance contract in a deal totalling 3.9 billion dollars.
The airline also announced a deal with Engine Alliance, a joint venture between GE Aircraft Engines and US engine maker Pratt & Whitney, to supply 45 engines and a maintenance contract for 10 Airbus A380 superjumbos.
A third contract was with US consortium International Aero Engines (IAE), which includes Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, for 44 engines for 20 Airbus A320s and is worth 575 million dollars, IAE said in a statement.
Airbus officials earlier Tuesday defended their handling of the recent crash of an Air France Airbus A330 over the Atlantic and insisted their planes were safe.
Airbus President Thomas Enders, addressing a press conference, rejected a reporter\’s suggestion that the manufacturer had been "timid" and not sufficiently forthcoming in the aftermath of the June 1 crash of Air France 447, which killed all 228 aboard.
"We do not speculate about the reasons for the accident," he said.
"The investigating authority is not Airbus. The investigating authority is the (French) BEA. We offer support but we do not speculate about the reasons. There is no possibility to know at this point why Air France 447 really came down."
Crash investigators have been looking at the possible malfunction of critical speed sensors on the aircraft.
Airbus chief operating officer Francois Bregier asserted that "all our aircraft are safe," adding: "Our track record is the best evidence."
Enders also insisted that Airbus plans to accept reimbursable government assistance to develop its long-haul A350 was legitimate.
"This is a reimbursable loan," he maintained. "We pay back with interest rates and royalties on top. And governments have said in the past that this is good business."
Airbus partners France, Germany, Britain and Spain have yet to decide how much money in government aid they will make available to the A350 program.
France has said it is considering a contribution of 1.4 billion euros and Germany up to 1.1 billion euros.
The United States and the European Union have long been at odds over government aid to their aircraft industries.
Washington in October 2004 lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization, accusing European governments of providing subsidies to Airbus in violation of international trade rules.
The European Union immediately responded with a counter-complaint on grounds that it is Boeing that takes advantage of unfair state assistance.
"We\’re facing a competitor with an aircraft, not by our accounts but by European Union accounts, that is probably the most highly subsidised aircraft ever," Enders said.
"And we want to level the playing field."
Boeing on Tuesday accused Airbus of flouting world trade rules by trying to win government financing.
"We\’re very disappointed that Airbus again is choosing to use governmental money to develop their plane when they have the money do it with their own resources, which is what a company should do," Robert Novick, Boeing\’s legal advisor, told AFP here.
Novick said it showed "disregard" for the WTO as it prepares to issue a ruling on whether such financing violates international rules of commerce.