PARIS Qatar Airways ordered 24 planes from Airbus as the world's largest air show opened in Paris on Monday, the Gulf carrier flexing its financial muscles as many recession-hit rivals struggle to find funds.
Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing Co face their worst year in more than a decade as many airlines, hit by slowing demand and tight credit conditions, look to cancel or defer plane orders.
Qatar's $1.9 billion deal for A320 and A321 single-aisle airliners will double its medium-haul fleet but Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker stopped short of announcing a foray into the budget airline sector.
"We are not planning a low-cost carrier, but if our market share is eroded by regional low-cost carriers, we will join the fashion show and launch one," he said.
The airliner sector has burned hot for several years but the global recession has the cycle's downturn looking more like a freefall while recession also constrains defense spending, limiting options as Boeing and Airbus parent firm EADS look for revenues there.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet was dropped from an expected flying display at the air show, a decision which the manufacturer said the U.S. Air Force had taken based on availability.
The world's most advanced jet fighter, the Pentagon proposed axing further production of the F-22 under a fiscal 2010 budget plan it sent to the Congress last month.
BOEING EYES MID-2010
This year's Paris Air Show is expected to fall far short of the clamor of orders at the biennial event two years ago when Airbus and Boeing took their order backlogs to record levels.
Airlines have roughly $800 billion of planes on order following the order boom.
Scott Carson, head of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, said Monday that growth might return to the industry in mid-2010.
But the scope and shape of the recovery remained the big question, he told a news conference. He added that he expected a more normal trend in credit in the second half of next year.
In the meantime, airlines face tight credit conditions, rising oil prices, new concerns about swine flu and a global recession which is prompting travelers to shelve vacation plans.
The emergence of swine flu in April triggered a worldwide health scare and Sunday Britain recorded its first death from it, three days after the World Health Organization declared an influenza pandemic.
The aviation industry also awaits answers after the crash of an Air France A330 Airbus with 228 people on board on June 1.
"It is safe to say that the aviation community is still (in) some shock," Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders told a briefing ahead of the air show.