Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Berlin Air Show takes off with record 'superjumbo' order

AFP - Wednesday, June 9

The 100th edition of the Berlin Air Show took off with a roar Tuesday as Dubai-based airline Emirates snapped up 32 Airbus A380 superjumbos, hailed as the largest order ever for commercial aircraft.

In the year's first order for the massive A380 plane, Emirates splashed out 11.5 billion dollars, providing a much-needed boost to Airbus and a headline-grabbing start to the Show.

"It's the largest order ever placed for civil aircraft by dollar value based on catalogue prices in aviation history," said a delighted John Leahy, chief commercial officer at Airbus.

Airbus also announced that TAM Airlines of Brazil had ordered 20 A320 planes and five of its new long-haul A350-900 aircraft, with the deal worth around 2.9 billion dollars (2.43 billion euros) at catalogue prices.

And in another boost for Airbus, France, Germany and Spain pledged cash to help the firm develop the A350 XWB wide-bodied aircraft.

Paris would stump up 1.4 billion euros, Berlin 1.0 billion euros and Madrid 350 million euros, representatives of the various governments said at the Show.

Running until June 13, the Berlin Air Show (ILA) was set to attract about 1,150 exhibitors from nearly 50 countries presenting all manner of planes, helicopters, rotors, motors and other technology to around 200,000 visitors.

The ILA this year was opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel who hailed the special role played by the aviation industry in Germany's economy.

"Aviation is, as it has always been, an area of the economy that pushes forward the development of technology in general," she said.

"Therefore, for a business location such as Germany, aviation technology has an influence that goes far beyond its own domain," added the chancellor.

With the annual gathering of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also taking part in Berlin at the same time, almost all of the high-fliers in the aviation world were to be found in the German capital.

However, while the aircraft suppliers were feting Merkel at the ILA, on the other side of town, their main customers at the IATA meeting were attacking her after she announced Monday a new tax on passengers leaving German airports.

The tax, which Merkel outlined Monday as part of a multi-billion package of belt-tightening measures, is set to run until the carbon-emissions trading scheme that has already been agreed comes into effect for air travel in 2012.

It is expected to bring in about one billion euros annually.

IATA's director general, Giovanni Bisignani, called for the tax to be scrapped immediately, saying it threatened to bring airlines down just when they were starting to see a recovery after several years of massive losses.

"This is the worst kind of short-sighted policy irresponsibility. It's a cash-grab by a cash-strapped government," he told reporters in Berlin.

"If this is related to the environment ... I would like the chancellor to say to us, where is the investment? How many trees is she planting with this one billion?" he said.

"This is not the time to burden the aviation industry with more taxes ... this tax is a body blow to the weak economy and a fragile industry," he added.

IATA had earlier revised up its forecasts for this year, projecting the industry's first profit since 2007.

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