PARIS — Low-cost pioneer Ryanair stole the limelight at the world's biggest air show on Tuesday with an unprecedented Chinese tie-up, while Airbus upped the pressure on rival Boeing with a slew of sales.
It was business as usual on the second day of the Paris International Air Show but the buzz was dampened by news of a Russian air crash with more than 40 dead and massive disruption to travel in Australia due to a volcanic ash cloud.
While Airbus and Boeing vied for the headlines with orders worth billions, Ryanair threatened to go round them by signing up to help Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) develop a version of its medium-range C919 jet.
Ryanair said it would "share its experience and expertise to assist COMAC to develop the new C919 commercial aircraft, with up to 200 seats, which would enable Ryanair to lower costs and continue to lower fares."
Ryanair, which currently only operates only Boeing planes, made clear the potential significance of the accord in providing other options.
"We are pleased that there is now a real alternative to Boeing and Airbus," chief Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
O'Leary noted that Ryanair will have a fleet of over 300 Boeing aircraft by 2013, "and we remain in continuing discussions with both Boeing and now COMAC for a replacement aircraft order of at least 200 aircraft."
Comac's head of research and design Guo Bozhi told jounrnalists "our aim is that the C919 will sot less to buy and to run," than its massive rivals.
He said the tie-up with COMAC would not affect Ryanair's relationship with Boeing, whose commercial aircraft head Jim Albaugh said at the weekend that China's first competitive sale would "probably be sooner than anyone thinks."
The 190-seat C919 targets the main industry battleground, the market for medium-haul planes dominated by Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320, which is being upgraded to the more fuel efficient A320neo.
Boeing had the wow factor Thursday when its graceful new long-haul jet, the 787 Dreamliner, landed at Le Bourget aerodrome to woo crowds of admirers.
But after sales of some $20 billion (13.9 billion euros) Monday, Airbus retained the lead Tuesday with a slew of orders for its new generation A320neo fuel efficient medium-haul airliner, heaping the pressure on Boeing's 737.
US leasing firm CIT Aerospace signed a memorandum of understanding for 50 A320neo aircraft, while key US low-cost carrier JetBlue opted for 50 of the aircraft in an order worth some $3.6 billion at list prices.
A smaller order but one which may have hurt Boeing even more came from Garuda Indonesia for 25 A320 jets, including 10 A320neos.
The head of Malaysia Airlines, Tengku Azmil Zahruddin Raja Abdul Aziz, said: "It will be interesting to see how Boeing responds as well ... then there will be a very interesting discussion we can have."
Analysts, who have been waiting to see if any company would make a switch, say the success of the A320neo demands a response from Boeing which insists it will make a decision on the 737's future this year.
Boeing, which said before the show that it fully expected Airbus to announce just such a blitz of orders, also had news to tell -- US aircraft leasing group GECAS would order two Boeing 747-8 cargo and eight long-distance 777-300ER planes.
Meanwhile, low-cost carrier Norwegian, which claims to be the third largest airline in Europe, ordered 15 737-800 planes and Russia's Aeroflot signed up for eight 777-300ER, listed at $2.2 billion.
Aeroflot ordered eight 777 planes in March in a deal which included an option for eight more as it gears up for the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the soccer World Cup hosted by Russia in 2018.
The smaller aircraft makers were led by Canada's Bombardier which said South Korea's Korean Air agreed to buy up to 30 of its CS300 regional planes, an important order to help raise its profile.
Bombardier also sold 10 of its Global 8000 business jets to VistaJet of Switzerland for $650 million.
Alongside Airbus and Boeing, more than 2,000 smaller aerospace companies are looking for business at the 49th Paris International Airshow where a second day of bad weather dampened spirits.
Boeing estimates that 33,500 planes worth $4.0 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) will be needed over the next 20 years.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »