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Fri, Mar 16, 2007

Airbus Appears Close To Landing Two Big A350XWB Deals

Aeroflot, Qatar Deals Would Mean 100+ New Orders

Despite the seeming disadvantage of ceding a five-year head start to its Boeing rival in the marketplace, don't count out Airbus' A350XWB just yet... as news surfaced Thursday the European planemaker may soon land two large orders for a combined 102 planes.

In an announcement that could be considered a blow to Boeing -- and the US -- Aeroflot says it had decided to acquire 22 A350 widebody jets to replenish its aging fleet. The order comes while Boeing is struggling for a foothold in Russia.

Aeroflot originally intended to place the order with Boeing, for its 787 Dreamliner, and had even placed a deposit. That order apparently fell victim to deteriorating relations between the Kremlin and the White House.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Washington of attempting to dominate the world. Understandably, this produced a chill in relations between the two countries... and put pressure on Aeroflot to cut off ties with Boeing.

The original agreement between Aeroflot and Boeing expired in September 2006. A private shareholder group then stepped in to keep the purchase option, reportedly worth $40 million, alive until the end of that year, with some help from a private shareholder group. But that deadline lapsed, as well.

In February, Boeing officials said they considered the order "dead in the water" -- essentially handing the deal to Airbus. Aeroflot officials confirmed Thursday the carrier has all-but-given up on ordering Dreamliners.

"Talks (with Boeing) are frozen," said Aeroflot spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg. In a separate interview, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov told the Interfax News Agency, "It's hard to estimate by what degree... are prospects for unfreezing it."

Dannenberg told The Associated Press Aeroflot now plans to sign a contract with Airbus for 10 to 15 A330 widebodies as part of a major fleet upgrade with delivery in the latter part of 2008, as part of an "operating lease" agreement.

The A330s will sub for the carrier's A350s, which would begin arriving in 2015.

In related news, Qatar Airways confirmed its participation in talks with Airbus to purchase 80 A350s.

The carrier now operates a fleet of 53 Airbus aircraft, and said it was interested in three variants of the aircraft and hoped to confirm new orders soon, according to an e-mailed statement to the AP.

Qatar Airways spokeswoman Sigrid Rath said the carrier announced two years ago its plan to buy 60 A350s, but now desires the additional 20 aircraft to service medium- and long-haul routes.

FMI: www.aeroflot.com, www.airbus.com

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