Sabena buys Airbus jets in $1.5bn agreement

Airbus Industrie yesterday beat Boeing to a $1.5bn (pounds 890m) order from the Belgian flag-carrier Sabena in a move which will see the European aircraft consorium becoming its sole supplier.

Sabena is to buy 34 narrow-bodied Airbus jets to replace its ageing fleet of Boeing 737s which are being phased out because of tougher noise limits.

In a closely fought contest, Boeing had offered to help fund Sabena's technical maintenance operations through a joint venture company.

However, Sabena's close links with Swissair, which is a big operator of Airbus aircraft may have swung the deal in favour of the European consortium. As part of its bid, Airbus also offered Sabena a training package supported by Swissair.

Meanwhile, Airbus was poised to pick up further launch orders for its stretched A340-500 and 600 jets from Lufthansa and Swissair. The industrial launch of the new jet, expected to cost about $2bn to develop, has been held up because of uncertainties about UK funding for the project.

The Government has indicated that it will not provide British Aerospace with pounds 120m in launch aid to build the wings for the A340-500 and 600.

BAe, which has a 20 per cent stake in Airbus, is facing total devlopment costs of pounds 360m and has warned that it may take the Airbus work abroad if the Government refuses to provide launch investment putting thousands of jobs at risk. Alternative locations for building the wings include Spain and Italy.

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