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Financiers keep tills ringing at UK air show

EconomyJul 15, 2014 10:00AM ET
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By Tim Hepher and Victoria Bryan FARNBOROUGH England (Reuters) - The world's largest planemakers returned to business as usual on day two of the Farnborough Airshow, inking deals worth about $25 billion with the industry's top financiers on Tuesday after an ill-tempered clash over their latest aircraft designs.

The flurry of business deals involved names that mean little to most travelers but which keep the wheels turning of a $100 billion annual market for jetliners that remain in hot demand in emerging markets, as the West limps out of recession.

Confirming a Reuters report, Japanese-owned SMBC Aviation Capital signed the biggest deal of the show so far by number of units with a $12 billion order for 115 Airbus A320-family jets.

But while money flowed across the table between manufacturers and leasing companies, AirAsia (KL:AIRA) low-cost airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes waited in the wings with what could be a $12 billion order for some 50 of Airbus's revamped A330neo. Airbus (PA:AIR) and AirAsia declined comment.

Airline deals have been few and far between at the world's largest showcase event, which coincides with growing concern about overcapacity and a string of airline profit warnings.

But leasing companies are putting their faith in steadily growing aviation traffic especially in Asia.

"We do see this as growing our business over the next 10 years," SMBC Chief Executive Peter Barrett told journalists.

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The air show has, however, brought renewed evidence of a battle for market share between Airbus and Boeing (N:BA) over sales of narrowbody jets, the backbone of most medium-haul networks.

It comes hard on the heels of two closely watched domestic contests in the UK where Monarch Airlines handed Boeing a critical win by dropping current supplier Airbus, while British Airways owner IAG (L:ICAG) stuck with Airbus after another duel.

But the star of the civil side of the show remained an aircraft that Airbus had not expected to make until recently - a revamped version of its A330 long-haul jet that Airbus says will be able to compete with the much newer Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus extended the provisional order book to 55 of the new aircraft on Tuesday and was expected to bring the total for the air show above 100 with the imminent announcement from AirAsia.

Boeing has criticized Airbus's latest model as a rehash of tired metallic technology compared with its carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner, which also gathered new orders on Tuesday.

But Airbus and a trio of leasing company buyers said the A330 still made sense for airlines that do not need the full range capability of the 787 or its own A350, even though the smallest member of the A350 family is now sure to be axed.

The defense side of the show remained locked in suspense over the arrival of America's newest combat jet, the Lockheed Martin (N:LMT) F-35.

The radar-evading jet missed its Farnborough debut on Monday after being grounded due to an engine fire, but U.S. military officials have approved a limited flight clearance along with engine inspections, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Washington still hoped the F-35 could fly at the show.

(Editing by Mark Potter)

Financiers keep tills ringing at UK air show
 

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