The annual airliner sales race left the starting gate Monday at England’s Farnborough Air Show.
The Boeing Co. jumped into the lead with a $7.2 billion order by Los Angeles-based Air Lease for 60 737 Max 8 and 15 737 Max 9 aircraft. The leasing company also acquired rights to order 25 more of the aircraft.
The order was the first leasing company order for the latest generation of Boeing 737 single-aisle aircraft.
Boeing has secured orders and commitments for more than 1,000 of the aircraft. Airbus has sold more than 1,200 of its rival A320neo aircraft. But Airbus had a nearly nine-month head start on Boeing in the single-aisle contest.
Boeing did not officially launch the updated version of the 737 until last fall after flirting with the idea of building an all-new single-aisle aircraft instead.
“The 737 Max is an excellent addition to our portfolio and the ideal complement to our growing fleet of Next-Generation 737-800s,” said Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman and CEO of Air Lease. “The 737 Max represents a step-change improvement that our airline clients need to compete in the future.”
The 737 Max aircraft features more-efficient engines, aerodynamic improvements and modified wingtip winglets to improve fuel economy.
The 737 Max will be built on a new assembly line at Boeing’s Renton plant.
Air Lease in early June confirmed an order for 36 Airbus A320neos and A321neos.
Meanwhile at the show, Boeing’s new commercial airplanes chief, Ray Conner, told reporters the company is still committed to two new wide-bodied aircraft programs, but it wants to take more time to talk with customers before seeking the final go-ahead from Boeing’s board.
Those two aircraft programs are a further stretch of the 787 Dreamliner called the 787-10 that will carry about 40 more passengers than the next-largest version, the 787-9.
The 787-10 will have a nonstop range of about 7,800 miles and carry 330 passengers in a normal mixed-class seating configuration. The midsized version of the Dreamliner, the 787-9, has a range of about 9,700 miles and will carry about 290 passengers.
Boeing claims the 787 offers customers about a 20-plus percent fuel-cost advantage over Airbus’ similar-sized plane, the A330.
Meanwhile, Airbus announced that it will be offering a higher gross weight version of the A330. That feature will allow the aircraft to fly about 450 more miles without refueling and make it more competitive with Boeing’s 777 and 787.
The second new wide-bodied program Boeing is planning is a major update of its popular 777 twin-jet. That updated model line will be called the 777X.
Conner’s predecessor, Jim Albaugh, said he expected the 777X program would go to the Boeing board by the end of the year for a move-ahead decision. Conner didn’t commit to that timetable, but said the decision would be made when the time was right.
The 777X will likely feature new engines and a new wing that will improve fuel efficiency and range.
“We’re looking at everything at this moment,” Conner said. “We’re very comfortable with the process. We’re comfortable where we are. When we get it figured out, then that’s when we’ll go forward.”
In other developments at the show, Rockwell Collins and Boeing announced the development of a new flight deck for retrofit into Boeing 767 and 757 models. The new flight deck incorporates electronic enhancements patterned after those in the 787 Dreamliner.
The new flight deck will be available in 2014. The new instruments and radios, controls and sensors will be available for installation in the 1,600 existing 767s and 757s. Boeing could incorporate the new flight deck into the 767s to be built after the certification of the new flight deck, but there was no official word whether that’s Boeing’s intention.
The 757 and 767 share a common flight deck. Production of the 757 ended several years ago, but the 767 remains in production at Boeing’s Everett plant. Boeing will use the 767 as the platform for a new Air Force aerial tanker.
THE SALE: The Boeing Co. opened the Farnborough Airshow by announcing the sale to Air Lease Corp. of 75 of its 737 aircraft for a total of $7.2 billion, at least at sticker price.
THE TAILWINDS:It’s a big win for the Chicago manufacturer. It’s the first order for the Max, a new version of its best-selling 737 aircraft, from a leasing company. Expectations are high that Boeing will clinch a raft of deals for the plane as it tries to catch up with Airbus in orders for single-aisle aircraft. Airbus, which is a subsidiary of EADS, won the battle for orders at last year’s Paris Airshow. (Paris and Farnborough alternate.)
THE PLANE: The Max incorporates new technologies designed to make the aircraft more efficient, reliable and comfortable. So far, Boeing has secured orders and commitments for more than 1,000 of the aircraft.