Airbus needs some lift as Boeing flies high at Dubai Airshow

European plane maker has yet to sign a deal with just two days left to avoid major humiliation in face of US firm's success

An Airbus A350 performs a flight display during the Dubai Airshow on November 12, 2017, in the United Arab Emirates.  / AFP PHOTO / Karim SAHIB
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Airbus heads into the third day of the Dubai Airshow with no announced orders, raising pressure on the manufacturer to clinch some deals and gain ground on arch-rival Boeing, which built an early lead at the event.

Airbus is working to turn around its fortunes during the remainder of the show, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Among prospective orders are accords with EgyptAir Airlines for A320neo single-aisle aircraft, as well as a deal with Dubai-based discount carrier FlyDubai, which is negotiating for as many as 175 narrow-body planes, said the people, who asked not to be identified.

The European plane maker remains confident it can bring home a highly anticipated order for about 36 additional A380 superjumbos from Emirates. That deal has eluded the company so far, dealing an embarrassing blow to Airbus that was compounded when Boeing signed its own pact with the airline.

Boeing is not done with deals yet, either. Among the transactions in its pipeline is a deal to place about half a dozen 787 Dreamliners with EgyptAir, according to people familiar with the talks. Representatives for Airbus, Boeing and the airlines involved declined to comment.


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Air shows are forums that bring together manufacturers and customers and offer a prime opportunity to close deals that have been brewing in the background for weeks or months. Airbus in particular has used the events for bragging rights, tallying its overall haul at the end of each show and comparing its wins with those of Boeing.

As Airbus finds itself in the unusual situation of not having a single buyer after two days, it has to deliver in the last two days to avoid its biggest commercial humiliation in years. The company typically excels at air shows, having perfected the art of the aircraft deal under longtime sales chief John Leahy, who relishes clinching last-minute accords and counting up gains at the expense of Boeing. With Mr Leahy set to step down in coming months, that carefully honed choreography is facing an uncertain future.

The changing fortunes were on display on the opening day of the event Sunday, when Airbus had planned to make its debut with the A380 order. Instead, Boeing stole the limelight with a US$15.1 billion deal from Emirates for its 787 Dreamliner, followed shortly thereafter with a follow-up accord with Azerbaijan Airlines.

When asked what was behind the hold-up with an Airbus order, the Emirates president Tim Clark said Airbus needs to show greater commitment to the A380, whose future has been thrown into doubt as the order book for the giant aircraft dries up.

This year’s air show has lacked the urgency of previous years, when Emirates and its Arabian Gulf peers such as Etihad Airways worked up an order frenzy on opening day. Etihad is undergoing a dramatic overhaul of its management and strategy after its alliance of partner airlines around the globe hit trouble.