Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al-Baker said at the show yesterday that the deal would be signed "imminently".
Both the civil airliner superpowers had ample reason to celebrate. For Airbus, the $10.6 billion intention to order, gives the A350 long-range twin a critical boost in the campaign against the Boeing 787. For Boeing, the $4.6 billion sale marks a breakthrough with Qatar Airways which until now had been an exclusively Airbus customer.
The announcement came against all expectations, with most observers believing that expected high-profile orders involving the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 would not be resolved in time for Paris. Last week, Emirates which is also evaluating the two aircraft, said it would not be making an announcement at Paris.
After last-minute discussions with Airbus brokered a form of words to announce that the deal would be signed, the format of the announcement puzzled some observers.
It was delivered solo by Qatar Airways, without Boeing or Airbus executives present. Airbus then held a second, separate press conference to talk about the announcement.
For Airbus, it was a vital development, bringing the European manufacturer close to the triple digit orders it said it expected to announce at Paris. Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard said that the total of 90 commitments for the A350 "is more than would be needed" for an industrial launch (expected in September).
Al Baker says the deal will be subject to "the resolution of certain important outstanding issues with each manufacturer".
Speaking of the choice of the A350 over the Boeing 787, he says: "It was undertaken after very extensive analysis. The decision was very hard to make as both aircraft types showed very strong advantages in different areas.
"In the end, the existence of the Airbus A330 in Qatar Airways' current fleet and slightly more advantageous terms led us to believe that the A350 would be the optimum choice."
Deliveries of the aircraft, powered by GE GEnx engines, will begin in 2010 and run through to 2015.
The Boeing 777 mix of 20 aircraft is likely to see the 777-300ER account for about half the planned order.
Al Baker says that the airline intends to make the B777 the airline's standard widebody. The B777-300ER will allow capacity growth on the airline's rapidly growing and airport slot-constrained routes, while the B777-200LR will be used on new routes to North America and Australasia.