Airbus reports best-ever jet sales at Farnborough: $75.3B

The aviation industry spends big bucks and plans years in advance. Airbus sells 496 passenger jets at the UK airshow.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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An Airbus A380 shows off above the Farnborough International Airshow.
An Airbus A380 shows off above the Farnborough International Airshow. Stephen Shankland/CNET

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Airbus sold 496 planes worth $75.3 billion at the Farnborough International Airshow, its best-ever results at the UK show.

"This is the best Farnborough Airshow in Airbus history," Fabrice Brégier, chief executive of Airbus, the Airbus Group's commercial aircraft division, said during a press conference Thursday.

That total beats the numbers reported so far by Airbus rival Boeing, which on Thursday said it sold 201 aircraft worth $40.2 billion. However, Boeing marketing chief Randy Tinseth said at a press conference Sunday that he believed Airbus had been holding back deal announcements for a splashier Farnborough. So far this year, Boeing has sold 783 jets.

Things have been grim in the airplane business with the global economic malaise, curtailed traveling, and airline bankruptcies. Now, though, things are looking up, with many executives sounding bullish about their industry's prospects. Boeing is increasing manufacturing capacity, and Airbus said it expects to sell more than 1,000 of its new midsize jet, the A330neo.

At Farnborough, Airbus' lightest and heaviest planes (pictures)

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The airlines typically announce deal value in terms of list prices, not the discounted prices airlines actually pay depending on deal terms like quantity. Either way, though, it's a very different purchasing world from consumer technology; airline industry deals last over years and often include products that don't even exist as prototypes, much less as tested and certified products.

For example, Qatar Airways ordered 50 of the Boeing 777X planes with an option to buy 50 more. That model, announced last May and able to carry 350 to 400 passengers, isn't scheduled to begin shipping until 2020.

Airbus is based in France but has about 100,000 employees in the UK, and the Farnborough show outside London is a major date on the aviation industry calendar. Airlines and militaries convene to see the latest wares and make purchase commitments for a week. Brégier said the only show bigger for Airbus is the Paris Airshow. It's also a chance to impress the public, thousands of whom attend the show on the weekend.

US-based Boeing and Airbus were fiercely competitive at the show, announcing customers at hourly news conferences and taking potshots at their rivals' planes and claims.

Also at the show, Airbus announced it will revamp its existing A330 into a model called the A330neo, and Boeing said it will do likewise with the 737 Max.

Both Airbus and Boeing had a better week than Lockheed-Martin. An engine fire in June grounded the fleet of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, aka the Joint Strike Fighter, so the company couldn't go through with its planned European debut.