March 17, 2007

Aeroflot, Qatar Airways want A350s from Airbus

MOSCOW - Russian state carrier Aeroflot will acquire 22 A350 widebody jets, while Qatar Airways is in talks with Airbus on a purchase of 80 A350s, the airlines said Thursday -- good news for the troubled planemaker.

Aeroflot also could soon sign a contract to buy 10 to 15 smaller A330s as part of a major upgrade of its fleet, said airline spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg.

Delivery of the A330s would begin by the end of 2008 under an "operating lease" agreement, while the A350s would be delivered starting in 2015, Dannenberg said. A final contract for both models would be signed in coming weeks.

She refused to say how much the deal would be worth.

The $15.3 billion A350 program is touted as Airbus' answer to rival Boeing Co.' s 777 and the upcoming 787 in the lucrative market for long-range, midsize planes. Airbus also has to renegotiate most of its 102 A350 sales with customers who ordered an earlier version of the plane that was scrapped.

A major A350 sale would be a boost at a difficult time for Airbus. It has been beset by management and financial crises, including a two-year delay to its double-decker A380 superjumbo that wiped more than $6.6 billion off the company's profit forecasts.

Airbus is seeking to recoup those losses by cutting 10,000 jobs and spinning off or closing six of its European manufacturing plants.

The Aeroflot order also comes amid continuing struggles in Russia for Boeing, whose competing efforts to supply the airline with 22 787s have been stymied by what some analysts say is the chill in relations between Washington and Moscow.

"The talks (with Boeing) are frozen," Aeroflot's Dannenberg said.

Qatar Airways, meanwhile, confirmed that it was in talks with Airbus for the purchase of 80 A350s.

The fast-expanding airline -- which now operates a fleet of 53 Airbus aircraft -- said it was interested in three variants of the aircraft and hoped to confirm new orders soon, according to an e-mailed statement.


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