Boeing Co. secured orders for 50 737 Max narrow-body planes, padding its tally at the Dubai Airshow while building momentum for the grounded aircraft ahead of its potential return to the skies in coming weeks.
Kazakhstan’s Air Astana signed a letter of intent for 30 jets, Boeing announced Tuesday, while an undisclosed customer bought 20, according to a person familiar with the matter. The orders come after SunExpress of Turkey purchased 10 planes, giving a total value of about $7.5 billion at list prices.
“This was a tendered competition we fought hard for and won,” Stan Deal, the new head of Boeing’s jetliner business, said of the Air Astana order. The sale will be especially welcome since the Central Asian carrier is an established customer for Airbus’ rival A320neo.
Business for the Max has been sparse since the latest version of the storied 737 series was idled in March after two deadly crashes in five months. The A320neo, meanwhile, won a $14-billion, 120-plane order from Air Arabia at the Dubai show Monday, followed by a $1.3-billion acquisition of 12 Neos by U.K. discount airline EasyJet.
And Indian low-cost carrier SpiceJet told Bloomberg on Monday that it was discussing an order for an undisclosed number of Max jets.
But the trickle of orders can’t disguise the effect of the crisis surrounding the plane.
That was recently laid bare in data showing the A320 overtook the 737 by total orders for the first time in October, with 15,193 during the Airbus model’s lifetime versus 15,136 for its rival. The Boeing jet was more than 400 orders ahead at the end of last year. The 737, in service for longer, remains No. 1 by deliveries, with about 10,500 shipped compared with just over 9,000 A320s.
Boeing is working with regulators to certify a fix to flight-automation software that was involved in both fatal disasters and has said it’s aiming for Federal Aviation Administration approval to return the Max to the skies by the end of this year.
In the meantime, customers for the troubled model are generally hedging their bets by declining to commit to firm orders. That was true of a blockbuster $24-billion deal for 200 planes announced by IAG at the Paris Air Show in June.
The British Airways parent affirmed deployment plans for the aircraft at an investor day this month while excluding them from a tally of future orders since deliveries aren’t due until 2023.
The Kazakh deal is particularly positive for the Max since Air Astana has been building its short-haul fleet around the A320neo. The company intends to take the Boeing planes from 2021 and deploy them at its FlyArystan low-cost unit. It may still add Airbus jets after studying the A321XLR for its longest routes.
Away from the Max-A320 faceoff, Airbus has dominated in Dubai, led by an Emirates order for 50 A350 wide-body planes valued at $16 billion.
The deal includes 20 more planes than an initial agreement in February, though the Dubai airline, the world’s largest on long-haul routes, failed to sign off on 40 A330neos included in the earlier accord.
At the same time, Boeing failed to progress a sale of 40 787 Dreamliners to Emirates, and that sale now appears to be in the balance. The Persian Gulf giant also has 150 orders for the 777X wide-body, delays to which have invoked the ire of its president, Tim Clark.
Airbus’s smallest model, the A220, also secured an eight-plane order from Air Senegal. While small, the deal helps to top up the backlog for the former CSeries jet that the European company acquired from Bombardier Inc. Saudi discount carrier Flynas also firmed up the purchase of 10 A321XLRS that had been flagged earlier.
Boeing wrapped up its show with a three-plane order for the 787-9 variant of the Dreamliner from Ghana. The planes will be used by a new carrier due to commence flights in the first quarter of next year. The deal adds to a two-plane 787 order from Biman Bangladesh Airlines announced Sunday.
Philip and Odeh write for Bloomberg.