The Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, are joined by a Spitfire at the opening of the Farnborough Air Show on July 16 2018. Picture: REUTERS
The Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, are joined by a Spitfire at the opening of the Farnborough Air Show on July 16 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Farnborough — The UK edition of the world’s most closely watched annual air show — which alternates between Farnborough and Paris — began on Monday.

The spotlight was on the traditional rivalry between Boeing and Airbus, with Brexit also coming into focus. Here is a sampling of the first day’s highlights:

1. Boeing and Airbus

American group Boeing and European rival Airbus battled to a stalemate as the air show kicked off on Monday, tallying more than $55bn in jetliner sales. The second day may well signal a winner.

Airlines and leasing firms committed to taking about $29bn of planes from Airbus, including dozens of its top-selling A320neo family of narrow-body jets. Boeing was close behind, with about $26bn in deals, including confirmation of an $8.8bn order from India’s Jet Airways.

Business was dominated more than ever by the latest version of the workhorse Airbus A320 and Boeing’s rival 737 narrow-body jet, which together have generated more than $1.2-trillion in sales.

The latest generation of planes are more fuel-efficient than their predecessors, helping to spur unprecedented demand and swell their combined order backlog past 12,000 planes.

Air shows are notorious for late deals that make it hard to judge who’s winning after one day. Airbus is discussing a potential $23bn deal with Malaysia’s AirAsia, according to people familiar with the matter. Asian buyers like Jet and Taiwanese startup StarLux Airlines led Monday’s action.

2. GE and the Boeing 797

General Electric said it remains unconvinced that demand for Boeing’s potential midrange aircraft, nicknamed the 797, will be enough to justify developing a new engine for the jet. The turbine maker is "still wrestling with" what the size of the market is, GE Aviation chief David Joyce said on Monday. "People feel great when you launch, but shareholders don’t feel great until you’re successful," he said. Boeing envisions the NMA, to be designed for 5,000-mile routes, as succeeding its 757 and 767 models and taking on Airbus’s popular A321neo.

3. Buying on spec

Toby Bright used to strike deals for the Boeing 737 jetliner when he was the plane maker’s chief salesman more than a decade ago. Now he is a buyer. Jackson Square Aviation, the aircraft financier that Bright leads, announced an order for 30 of the Max, Boeing’s latest 737 model. The planes will be delivered between 2023 and 2025, and buyers are already lined up, Bright said in an interview. The San Francisco-based company, founded in 2010, buys factory-fresh jetliners from airlines and leases them back to the carriers. It now has a portfolio of more than 180 jets.

4. Trade war

In most instances, the world’s two largest plane makers are not above employing hardball geopolitics if it will gain them a sales edge. But Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Airbus commercial chief Faury both said they wanted no part of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In separate interviews, they said nothing good would come from the tension that’s been gathering momentum over recent weeks.

Muilenburg told Bloomberg TV that finding a solution to the dispute is essential because the aerospace industry relies on the free flow of goods. Said Faury: "There will be no winner if there’s a trade war around the world."

5. Post-Brexit power

The Tempest, a new fighter jet, was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show on July 16 2018. Picture: REUTERS
The Tempest, a new fighter jet, was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show on July 16 2018. Picture: REUTERS

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled a full-size model of a new jet fighter in a bid to show that the nation plans to remain a leading military power after Brexit. The plane — nicknamed the Tempest — is a joint venture of Britain’s BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, Italy’s Leonardo and the UK arm of MBDA, Europe’s biggest missile company. Airbus, which jilted BAE after the Brexit vote, said the two could still combine efforts on a warplane after the UK’s split from the EU is complete.

6. C Series Joins A Team

Airbus is seeking to jump-start the order book for its newly acquired C Series small jetliner, now dubbed the A220. Going into Farnborough, Airbus was trying to iron out the last hurdles to a 60-jet order from David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, and a group of investors who are trying to start a new US low-cost airline. The A220 programme got an important vote of confidence from Air Lease Corp founder Steven Udvar-Hazy, who told Bloomberg the A220 is "a more attractive prospect" under Airbus. "This has changed the whole landscape in terms of its credibility," he said.

7. Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said the airline was adapting to the loss of 18 Middle East routes, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with it a year ago, and it could avoid posting a loss in financial 2019 despite the restrictions.

The airline is set to post what al-Baker has said will be "a very large loss" for the financial year ended March 2018, but it has not been published yet. Al-Baker said this would be made public in the coming weeks.

But for the current year, he said the airline might be able to mitigate the impact of the boycott, which includes a ban on using airspace over the four countries, meaning some of its flights have to take much longer routes.

Qatar Airways is starting up to 18 new routes to offset the impact of the dispute, and said it could also make investments to help boost its results.

Bloomberg and Reuters