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By Benjamin Katz
As Boeing Co. struggles to get its 737 MAX back in the air, rival Airbus SE is racing ahead in the jet-making duopoly's annual race for orders and deliveries.
Airbus on Tuesday booked one of its biggest jet orders ever -- for 300 aircraft valued at a list price of at least $33 billion -- doubling its order book for the year. The deal, with India's IndiGo Airlines, was for the Airbus A320neo single-aisle jetliner family, the chief rival to the MAX.
The order lifts the Toulouse, France-based company's gross orders for the year to 603, far outstripping Boeing's 170.
The IndiGo order is one of the biggest in Airbus history, though it falls short of its record of 430 aircraft two years ago from the unrelated U.S. airline owner Indigo Partners. In addition, Airbus last week announced a memorandum of understanding for 100 of the A320neo jets with Florida-based discounter, Spirit Airlines. The order's list-price value doesn't include typical discounts for large buyers of jets.
The Indian carrier was an early customer of the A320neo, and Boeing wasn't seen as being competitive for the order, cushioning the blow. Still, the deal represents a major boost for Airbus's best-selling jet at a time when Boeing is scrambling.
Airbus is also well ahead of Boeing in terms of jet deliveries, typically a more important metric for investors because plane makers usually don't get paid until they hand over the aircraft. Airbus has delivered 571 planes this year, compared with 301 by Boeing. That puts the European plane maker on track to deliver more jets than Boeing this year, for the first time since 2011.
This year, Boeing has been largely sidelined by the grounding of its 737 MAX, which like the A320neo, had been a hit among airlines. The two "narrow bodies" have been popular for their fuel efficiency and versatile range. They and the planes' earlier variants have become the workhorses of the airline industry.
Earlier this year, Boeing grounded its 737 MAX fleet after two deadly crashes were blamed in part on its flight control system. Eight months into the grounding, Boeing has yet to submit plans for software upgrades and training fixes to regulators, who need to review them before allowing the MAX back into service.
While some airlines have canceled 737 MAX orders, most haven't yet given up on the jet. In June, Boeing secured a critical commitment for the aircraft from London-based IAG SA, owner of British Airways. It signed a letter of intent for 200 of the MAX jets despite the grounding.
Included in the IndiGo deal is an order for Airbus's new "XLR" variant of the A320neo, which offers an extended range. The model was unveiled earlier this year in part to cut into the market potential for an all-new model that Boeing has been studying.
Airbus also has had some less significant technical issues with its new jet. Indian regulators on Tuesday said they may ground some of the oldest A320neo jets because of problems with some of the engines, made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
IndiGo, which was told to modify 16 of its A320neo aircraft in the next 15 days, in June said it was switching to Pratt-rival CFM International for a portion of the outstanding orders. An Airbus spokesman said it was working with Pratt "to support our customer in daily operations." A spokeswoman for Pratt said it was working to "ensure minimal disruption during the fleet retrofit."
For IndiGo, the deal brings its total orders for Airbus jets to 730, making it the planemaker's biggest customer. The carrier, which has been rapidly growing in one of the industry's most important markets, was also one of the launch customers for the neo in 2011.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 29, 2019 13:26 ET (17:26 GMT)
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