America West Airlines has confirmed a deal for up to 77 Airbus Industrie A320 series aircraft. The move follows a Frontier Airlines letter of intent (LoI) for another 20 jets, rekindling US political criticism of the European manufacturer's growing success in the US market at Boeing's expense.

Phoenix-based America West has ordered 15 Pratt & Whitney PW6124-powered A318s and another 12 International Aero Engines V2500-A5-powered A320s, the latter for delivery from next August.

America West, which operates 43 A319/A320s, has also taken 25 options and another 25 purchase rights for any member of the A320 family. Frontier has signed an LoI for an undetermined mix of 11 A318/A319s and nine options after Boeing pulled out of talks, complaining of uneconomical aircraft pricing. The Denver-based Boeing 737 operator plans to transition to an all-Airbus fleet by 2005.

This and other recent Airbus sales successes has begun to attract US domestic political attention and reopen allegations of unfair European state subsidies and European airline favouritism towards Airbus. Democrat Congressman William Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says: "The USA should not sit idly by as Airbus thrives because of financial and political support provided by its partner governments. The US Government should give similar political support to Boeing and send the message to US carriers that Boeing aircraft are preferred to Airbus aircraft."

Excluding American West, Frontier and a yet-to-be-announced follow-on US Airways' purchase of 26 A320 and three A330s, firm orders this year from US carriers and leasing companies total almost 160 aircraft.

The Airclaims CASE database shows that Airbus holds a stronger position in order terms in its rival's home market than Boeing does in Europe. Airbus orders account for around 40% of the two companies' backlog in the USA, while Boeing has only a 30% share from customers in the four Airbus nations.

Lipinski is particularly incensed by JetBlue's order in April for 25 Airbus A320s and up to 50 options and a subsequent decision by the US Department of Transportation to award the New York start-up 75 slots at Kennedy Airport. "There should be a feeling here in the US that it is impolite to buy Airbus-It appears today the US Government rewards domestic carriers that buy Airbus aircraft," says Lipinski.

Source: Flight International