An Airbus A321LR arrives after its maiden flight, in Hamburg, Germany. Picture: REUTERS
An Airbus A321LR arrives after its maiden flight, in Hamburg, Germany. Picture: REUTERS

Farnborough — Airbus reversed the aircraft making industry’s public relations rule book this week when it announced almost 200 orders from unidentified buyers at the Farnborough Airshow.

The UK airshow is one of the world’s most publicity-focused business events, with aircraft giants and airline entrepreneurs battling to win headlines for striking big deals under the roar of aerobatic displays.

Airbus declined to discuss the identity of the buyers, but industry sources said the list was dominated by Chinese-related leasing firms, reflecting strong air travel demand.

Chief commercial officer Eric Schulz linked the reticence to global trade tensions, telling analysts some Asian customers had asked Airbus not to fan growing disputes. "Undisclosed or disclosed, either way the order is there," he said.

Industry officials said Airbus was also driven by a desire to boost its show tally by including deals with customers that were not ready to announce publicly or needed approvals. Boeing may also report at least one undisclosed order this week.

Various factors are at play when deciding whether and when to reveal order plans, but air show competition has something to do with the sequence of announcements, a source said.

Airbus listed orders for 80 A320neo narrowbody jets from an unidentified leasing company, another for 100 similar narrowbody aircraft, plus 14 wide-body jets: eight A350-900 and six A330neo — an anonymous haul worth $24bn at list prices.

On Tuesday, reports said the first order for 80 aircraft came from China’s ICBC Leasing.

Several industry sources said the largest order for 100 jets had been placed by Dublin-based global leasing giant Avolon, owned by China’s HNA Group.

An Avolon spokesman said: "We are in constant dialogue with [manufacturers] and when we have an order to announce we will do that." Airbus is currently tackling payment delays from HNA Group which led to a backlog of undelivered wide-body A330 jets.

One of those aircraft has now been delivered and others are expected to follow soon.

Avolon is owned by HNA vehicle Bohai Leasing, but made changes in its bond structure earlier this year to insulate itself from the parent’s finance woes.

Avolon CEO Domhnal Slattery said this week those measures were working smoothly, but did not discuss order plans.

Aircraft makers often strike deals during the year with customers without disclosing their identity, especially in countries such as China with complex state approval processes.

But at air shows, airlines and financial backers often enjoy promotion for their business plans after buying a new fleet, and firms such as Airbus and Boeing invest in lavish facilities providing for press briefings.

Airbus is under pressure to show a rebound in sales after falling behind rival Boeing so far this year, though its new sales chief, Schulz, has played down the air show contest.

AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes left Farnborough in suspense over flying in from Malaysia to confirm an Airbus A330neo order or defecting to the Boeing 787.

One industry source said at least one jet was on standby to bring Fernandes to Farnborough at any sign of a breakthrough.

Reuters