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F-35 No-Show Lets Airbus Dominate Farnborough Airshow

It wasn't blinking that made you miss it. It wasn't blinking that made you miss it.
It wasn't blinking that made you miss it. U.S. Navy--Getty Images

Airbus NV (EADSY) hogged the limelight at day one of the world’s biggest aviation trade fair Monday, taking advantage of the glitches that kept Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) showcasing its new F-35B fighter.

The European consortium that is Boeing Corp.’s (BA) only real rival in the market for wide-bodied civil aircraft announced over 100 new orders for planes at the start of the U.K.’s  Farnborough International Airshow, including for the twin-aisled A330neo model that it showcased for the first time.

The A330neo is the latest example of Airbus revamping its traditional models to make them more fuel-efficient and give them both a longer range and more space for cabin baggage. Airbus claims the new design will reduce fuel consumption per passenger by 14%–a key concern for airlines increasingly squeezed by high fuel costs.

First deliveries of the A330neo are due to start in late 2017. Airbus is hoping that the relatively simple process of tweaking older models will allow it to grab market share from airlines frustrated at Boeing’s delays in getting its more revolutionary composite-based Dreamliner aircraft to market.

Boeing, however, had notched far more orders so far in 2014, with 649 after cancellations, against Airbus’s 290, according to Reuters.

Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corp (AL) signed a memorandum of understanding for 25 of the new A330 planes Monday, with a firm order for 60 of Airbus’s single-aisle A321neo planes.

Dutch-based leasing company AerCap also ordered 50 A320neos, while British Airways, a member of International Airlines Group (IAG) exercised an option on an existing contract for 20 extra A320neos, with a view to modernising its short-haul fleet.

Boeing responded with a commitment from Ireland-based leasing company Avolon for six 787-9 Dreamliners in a deal worth $1.5 billion and another five 737 MAX 9 planes for $550 million.

Boeing also confirmed orders for six 737 MAX 8 aircraft and four next-generation 737-800 from China’s Okay Airways, in a deal worth just under $1 billion at catalogue prices. It also confirmed rumors that  it had lured U.K.-based charter airline Monarch away from Airbus, saying it was finalizing terms for the sale of 30 of its 737 MAX 8 jets.

Farnborough typically witnesses a flurry of deals as the industry’s big names try to outdo one another during a frantic couple of days of meeting and bragging.

But this year’s show has suffered from the loss of its star attraction: the new F-35B Lightning, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, developed by Lockheed together with much of the U.K.’s defense industry. The F-35B is currently grounded after an unexplained engine fire last month, although the organisers said they still hoped it would be able to fly at the show by the end of the week.

However, the F-35B wasn’t the only no-show at Farnborough Monday. Over half of the 347-strong delegation from Russia also failed to make it, after being refused entry visas by the U.K.’s Foreign Office due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its perceived role in fomenting the violent conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In a statement, the Foreign Office also said it acted to stop controlled goods being exported to Russia and–in the biggest snub of all–wouldn’t escort any of its guests from foreign governments around the Russian pavilions at the show (the pavilion space had already been sold by the show’s private-sector organizers).

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the actions “conspicuously unfriendly” and said it reserved the right “to respond reciprocally.”