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Boeing outmanoeuvres Airbus at first Farnborough since Covid

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US planemaker Boeing triumphed this week as it scooped up more orders than its European rival Airbus at the first Farnborough Airshow since aviation was ravaged by Covid.

Returning from a four-year absence, Farnborough hosted the sector's biggest players and signaled that the industry's recovery from the pandemic is underway if somewhat bumpy.

Boeing won orders totalling 297 aircraft during the spectacle, leaving Airbus trailing in its wake on just 85 jets. Yet those numbers remain dramatically lower than in 2018.

The US titan stole the show on Monday with a blockbuster $13.5-billion deal with US airline Delta for 100 of its MAX-10 aircraft and options for 30 more.

The MAX -- which suffered two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 -- saw a rush of interest with orders also from Japan's ANA, US investment fund 777 Partners, leasing firm Aviation Capital, and Qatar Airways.

Airbus failed to keep up with the blistering pace; its biggest order was for 56 A320neo single-aisle aircraft worth $6.2 billion from British budget airline EasyJet.

- 'Humbling week' -

Yet Boeing remains sanguine over its successful showing after recent turmoil, and stressed its focus on safety.

"It's been a very humbling week in the sense of what we've been going through a lot as an industry, as a company," Boeing's senior vice president of commercial sales and marketing, Ihssane Mounir, told reporters Thursday.

"We always say that the airshow weeks are just one week out of 52 -- and it ends up being the culmination of all the work and getting together and celebrating and announcing and so on, especially after the Covid pandemic and everything we have gone through.

"From a business standpoint, the recovery is well underway. We've seen it in the domestic markets and now it's starting to take foothold in the international markets as well."

Industry analyst John Strickland said Boeing had made clear progress.

"Boeing will leave the show with a feeling that it has made valuable progress securing orders from key customers Delta and Qatar, whilst being transparent on its ongoing work to refocus on safety and quality," he said.

- Starts and stops -

Global air traffic was paralysed by the coronavirus pandemic, which grounded planes and decimated demand, while recovery is wobbly.

Aviation still faces headwinds from rocketing inflation fuelled by historically high oil prices, higher wages, labour shortages and supply-chain snarls, while airports struggle.

"The world stopped and then had to start again and there's inevitably some starts and stops, like a traffic jam," Warren East, CEO of British engine maker Rolls-Royce, told AFP in a summary of the pandemic's impact.

Airbus forecasts the narrow-body aircraft market will return to its pre-pandemic level by 2023, with wide-body reaching this point by 2025.

Global air traffic is on course to recover its 2019 level in 2024, according to industry body the International Air Transport Association.

Aviation has yet to see a boost to wide-body aircraft although analysts remain upbeat.

- 'Lot of activity': Airbus -

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury, speaking to AFP at Farnborough, said "the big issue" for the Franco-German group was the delivery of aircraft -- rather than increasing the size of its order book.

And he also stressed that order levels were "good" --  while the airshow was more about mixing with a vital network of suppliers.

"For 2022, the level of orders we will have at Airbus will be good," Faury told AFP.

"At Farnborough, we spend a lot of time with suppliers -- which gives the impression that there is less activity because there are fewer major contracts announced.

"However, it is an airshow with a lot of activity, in my view."

Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer of Airbus, added separately that it was "about time" that Boeing won the orders game.

Elsewhere, defence was a hot topic at Farnborough as nations bolster their armed forces after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The UK government also revealed the latest progress on its cutting-edge Tempest future combat fighter jet project.

Defence deals are conducted on the sidelines of the event but these are not published like commercial agreements.

Farnborough, one of the world's biggest civil and defence trade shows, features dizzying air displays and opens to the public on Friday.

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