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Airbus orders augment dogfight

Airbus, the European consortium in which British Aerospace is a partner, reacted to criticism from Boeing yesterday by announcing a package of orders worth hundreds of millions of pounds, writes Russell Hotten.

A war of words dominated the start of this week's Paris Air Show, where both companies are exhibiting their latest models.

Lufthansa yesterday formally signed a contract for 20 Airbus A319s, for delivery of one a month from July 1996. The 126-seater aircraft will replace Lufthansa's current Boeing 737-200 fleet.

Airbus refused to disclose the exact value of the deal, but has said each A319 is worth $39m, putting the total value at $780m. Lufthansa is the largest single airline customer for Airbus, and has total orders for 138 of the consortium's aircraft.

Airbus also announced that Air Canada had converted its 10 options for Airbus A319s into firm orders. Boeing has criticised Airbus for promoting option deals as if they were definite orders.

Air Canada has already placed firm orders for 25 A319s and the extra will eventually replace the airline's DC-9 fleet. Deliveries will be made between December 1996 and June 1998 and will make Air Canada the largest operator of Airbus aircraft in North America.

Airbus said the A319s were ideal for Air Canada's North American routes and the imminent introduction of services after agreement of a US-Canadian "open skies" accord.

The battle between Airbus and Boeing for orders became verbal, with both sides releasing statistics designed to show theirs was the better aircraft. Boeing's new 777 is on display, as is Airbus's new A330.

Boeing issued comparisons from crew training to passenger space to demonstrate superiority to Airbus. Ron Woodward, Boeing's president of commercial airlines, said he was not satisfied with just 60 per cent of the market. "We intend to capture two-thirds of the market," he said.

Airbus said that Boeing cared only about the price of aircraft, and not customer care and technology.

"That is presumably because their products are inherently inefficient," Airbus's vice president, Adam Brown, said.