British tycoon Richard Branson stole the show here Wednesday, announcing that he and his family would be on Virgin Galactic’s first trip into space, as Airbus and Boeing eked out more plane orders.
Branson was showcasing a mock-up of his SpaceShipTwo (SS2) aircraft at the biennial Farnborough airshow near London — a key event in the aviation sector calendar that typically sees planemakers Airbus and Boeing battle for orders.
“Next year (daughter) Holly and (son) Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space” under the Virgin Galactic space tourism programme, Branson told a press conference at the show southwest of London.
“Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing.”
Around 120 people have signed up to make the 60-mile (96-kilometre), two-hour journey into space — at a cost of £128,000 ($200,000, 162,000 euros) each.
“Virgin Galactic’s goal is to revolutionise the way we get to space,” Branson said Wednesday.
His announcement came on the third day of the week-long Farnborough show which has featured contract announcements for civilian and military planes alongside fly-pasts.
Amid a weak global economy and government cutbacks, the 2012 event has been more subdued compared with recent years.
The “level of orders represents a notable fall-off in the eyes of more optimistic aerospace investors, and makes the show unlikely to serve as a positive catalyst for the industry,” said analysts at Barclays Capital.
“Worth noting is that the show isn’t over yet, and it represents just one week in a year that is expected to see good, albeit lower, growth in (plane) backlogs.”
European planemaker Airbus came out on top for a second day running at Farnborough, announcing firm orders for its aircraft versus a sizeable number of commitments for Boeing products.
US giant Boeing had upstaged its arch-rival on Monday — the show’s first day.
France-based Airbus on Wednesday announced deals for its planes worth up to $5.4 billion (4.4 billion euros) — including a firm order from US leasing company CIT for 10 of its long-haul A330 planes worth $2.3 billion.
“When a leading leasing company like CIT, places a repeat order for our aircraft, we take that as a strong sign of customer satisfaction,” said Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier.
Airbus added that Hong Kong-based China Aircraft Leasing Company had committed to buy 36 of its A320 single-aisle planes together worth $3.1 billion.
“This is an important milestone for CALC,” said the Chinese group’s chief executive Mike Poon.
“We have a long-term commitment to the aviation industry and are very pleased to establish a relationship with Airbus.”
The deal includes a commitment to buy eight A321s, the largest member of the A320 family, but none of the manufacturer’s future A320neos.
Boeing separately announced that Irish leasing company Avolon planned to buy 25 of its short-haul aircraft, including 15 of its new fuel-efficient 737 MAX jets.
Boeing said the deal was worth $2.3 billion at list prices, as it looked to firm up the commitment.
“Boeing announced today at the Farnborough International Airshow a commitment by Avolon to purchase 10 737 MAX 8s and 5 737 MAX 9s, as well as 10 Next-Generation 737-800s,” the US group said.
Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said: “Avolon has a significant and strategic role to play in the aviation finance industry and we welcome them as one of the launch lessors of the 737 MAX.
“With rising fuel costs, the 737-800 and 737 MAX enable Avolon to offer their customers unsurpassed fuel efficiency today and well into the future.”