LE BOURGET, France – European jetmaker Airbus unveiled $3.6 billion of last-minute orders at the Paris Air Show (search) on Friday, claiming victory over Boeing and pushing the two aeronautics giants' combined sales past a record $50 billion.
With orders for 320 planes worth $33.5 billion, Airbus said it had outsold Boeing (BA) by a margin of more than two to one at the world's biggest aviation jamboree, held at Le Bourget.
However, Boeing continues to outsell Airbus in the new market for mid-size aircraft and many industry analysts expect it to wrest leadership of global sales from Airbus in 2005.
In a surprise turnaround, Airbus sales chief John Leahy suggested Airbus would retain its lead in new orders over Boeing this year, despite forecasts to the contrary from Airbus parent company EADS (search) as well as from Boeing and sector analysts.
Airshow orders reported by the two arch-rivals added up to a record $48.7 billion, according to company data and Reuters calculations based on available list prices, including $15.2 billion for Boeing but excluding a 40-plane Airbus order worth about $2.4 billion from an unidentified airline.
The volley of announcements fuelled upbeat forecasts for an industry clambering its way out of a post-2001 recession, with the help of emerging aviation powers including India and China.
Orders this week included a string of deals from India.
Industry analysts said they had been impressed with the pace of the turnaround while touring the "chalets" at Le Bourget — a purpose-built bazaar where executives wine, dine, do deals or come to talk shop at a key event which is held every two years.
The previous Paris show in 2003 had been overshadowed by travel fears due to the war in Iraq, a boycott by U.S. military top brass due to tensions with France and an industry downturn.
Commercial aviation pulled out of its steep dive in 2004 but it is only since the dollar also perked up earlier this year that aircraft makers and their suppliers have sounded confident.
"Orders are strong, and dollar pressure has eased somewhat," French bank Exane BNP Paribas said in a note to clients on the air show, adding, however, that high oil prices remained a worry.
Airbus said the late spurt of orders included 40 aircraft in the single-aisle A320 family from an unidentified airline which would make the announcement soon. It also sold 18 A319 jets worth $55 million each to low-cost German airline Germanwings (search).
An unnamed Saudi buyer snapped up a long-range four-engined A340-600 jet for private use. It usually seats 380 passengers. The $215 million price tag excludes specially fitted interiors.
Boeing was not available to comment, most of its officials having left as big business gave way to the public part of the show which expects to accommodate 300,000 visitors by Sunday.
Boeing had effectively conceded the Paris Air Show to Airbus earlier in the week by letting it be known there would be no "blockbuster" deals. Airbus's critics say it deliberately groups together orders to grab a concentrated dose of publicity and point out that many Airbus announcements remain provisional.
Yet most industry analysts said Airbus had recovered faster than expected from a months-long onslaught from Boeing in the new and expanding market for mid-sized jets capable of flying long distances between flexible locations.
Boeing has a strong lead in the lucrative segment, with 266 sales of its 787 Dreamliner (search). Airbus hit back this week with 95 new orders for its planned A350 after a redesign, bringing the total number of sales to 125.
It must wait until September for the EADS board to provide the $4.35 billion needed to build the plane. Airbus says this is for industrial reasons but also to cool a major international trade row over aircraft subsidies with Boeing.
Both manufacturers stuck to their positions but avoided stirring up that conflict further at the Paris Air Show.
The dispute will likely be aired in Washington later on Friday when EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson meets his U.S. counterpart Rob Portman ahead of next week's EU-U.S. summit.
In May, the U.S. reactivated its World Trade Organization (search) case in what is likely to be the largest commercial dispute in history. The European Union responded by filing a case against the United States.