The deal could eventually be worth nearly $5bn if options for a further 45 aircraft are turned into firm orders.
Airbus, in which British Aerospace has a 20 per cent stake, is supplying General Electric Capital Aviation Services with 40 aircraft from the short- range A320 family and five ultra-long range Airbus A340s. All the aircraft will be powered by CFM56 engines, made by a joint venture between GE and Snecma of France.
The deal comes a week after the four Airbus partners agreed to convert the consortium into a single corporate entity and will serve as a fillip to Airbus as it fights to erode Boeing's domination of the market.
This the first order Airbus has received from GECAS and increases Airbus's firm order book so far this year to 188 aircraft worth $13.5bn against 106 orders in the whole of last year.
Jean Pierson, managing director of Airbus, said: "The decision by GECAS to invest in our aircraft for the first time and in such significant numbers further consolidates the strong market appeal of our new generation products and reflects the continuing growth of our world market share."
Sales of the A320 family stand at 1,060 firm orders from 49 customers while the A330-A340 family has captured 321 firm orders from 41 airlines, giving it 44 per cent of the market for aircraft in the 250-350 seat range, Airbus said.
Deliveries of the A 319/ A320/A321 jets are due to begin in the middle of next year and continue at a rate of 10-15 aircraft a year up to 2001. The A340s will be delivered between 1999 and 2001. Airbus has set itself the target of becoming a full public company with its own assets and equity by 1999.