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OPINION: Surprising spate of Paris orders gives hope for the market

Despite worries about a quiet air show and ongoing challenges for the airframers, a spate of orders, including for the 737 Max 10, suggests that there is still plenty of life in the market.

As a simple, 1.7m stretch, the otherwise barely altered 737 Max 10 seems an underwhelming response to the Airbus A321neo’s dominance over the Max 9. First appearances suggest the market thinks otherwise. It is too early to be sure the newest member of the re-engined 737 family will propel Boeing to order parity within the single-aisle duopoly, but it is certainly off to a good start.

Although all but a few dozen orders represent conversions, the Max 10 reached 361 firm orders and commitments by the Thursday, exceeding the six-year-old sales record of the 737 Max 9 in one week. The wave of activity almost papered over Boeing’s biggest current challenge – keeping enough 777s in the backlog to bridge smoothly to the 777X.

That an unusually subdued Airbus allowed Boeing to seize the Paris spotlight is puzzling. But Toulouse has other priorities, among them troubled ramp-ups for the A320neo and A350, and plugging holes in the A380’s production skyline. Owning the largest backlog in single-aisles gives Airbus time to overcome these.

Time is a luxury for several manufacturers this year. Bombardier leaves Paris still searching for its first 2017 deal, but 117 net orders in 2016 will keep its steady ramp-up on track through next year. But an order shut-out at Farnborough 2018 may not be so overlooked.

As a gauge of the market’s health, the Paris air show offered encouraging signs for all commercial aircraft manufacturers. Despite rising geopolitical concerns in Asia and the Middle East, softness in the long-haul markets and sluggish world economic growth, Paris seemed far more active than two years ago. It was not just the first appearances of several new aircraft, including the 737 Max 9, 787-10, A321neo, A350-1000 and, not least, the Lockheed Martin F-35A.

Flight Fleets Analyzer counts 1,209 orders, commitments and options announced as the trade days came to an end, versus only 740 at Farnborough last July. That compares well with the 1,223 orders signed at the Paris air show in 2013 and 1,210 reported at Farnborough in 2014.

Keeping the industry’s momentum going will not be easy. Supply chains remain stretched by the unprecedented rate of deliveries, as Pratt & Whitney’s latest production glitch with geared turbofan engines illustrates. But the Paris air show demonstrated that it is back to moving in the right direction, and that is always a good place to start

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