An order from Qatar Airways looked set to brighten a glum start to a rain-soaked Paris Air Show on Monday as the Gulf carrier displays its financial muscle in the face of competing airlines bludgeoned by recession.
Two industry sources said the Gulf carrier could order single-aisle Airbus planes from the A320 family worth roughly $2 billion, doubling its medium-haul fleetas it prepares to fend off low-cost competition.
Such a deal would stand out from what is expected to be a dearth of major orders at Le Bourget as the airline industry weathers an economic crisis.
And in a blow to the military prestige of the air show, manufacturers said the United States had pulled out the world's most advanced jet fighter, the F-22, from a flying display.
Lockheed Martin, which builds the Raptor, said it was an Air Force decision based on availability. But European industry executives said there may have been concerns over whether the stealth plane would be exposed to radar trying to unlock its secrets.
Qatar Airways last year unveiled a deal to buy up to six Airbus A321 planes and said it was ready to set up a budget airline to fend off any attack by a rival airline in its home market.
The airline also said last summer it was in negotiations with Airbus to buy further A320-family aircraft. It already operates 19 aircraft from the Airbus A320 family of single-aisle planes, which includes the A321.
Airbus said it would make an announcement at 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 GMT) but declined further comment. The airline also declined comment.
A third industry source said there was speculation Qatar Airways, which has called for planes to be delivered faster as it shrugs off the global economic slowdown, could place a large order for both single-aisle and long-haul aircraft.
The faint buzz surrounding day one of the world's largest air show contrasted with a clamor of orders at the previous Le Bourget event two years ago when the peak of a three-year boom swept Airbus and Boeing to record levels of unfilled orders.
This year's Paris event, which alternates with the UK's Farnborough air show, sees the industry mourning the Atlantic jet disaster, economic crisis and new concerns about swine flu.
The heads of both Boeing and Airbus, fierce rivals in the $60 billion jetliner market, gave separate reassurances at the weekend over the safety of air travel 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 June 15-21 air show.
The air transport industry has been battered by a slump in the economy coupled with weakened credit. Together these have cast doubt on the ability of airlines to pay for the roughly $800 billion of planes on order following a previous order boom.
Scott Carson, head of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, said growth would 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.
Pressure mounted on Sunday when Britain recorded its first death from H1N1 swine flu, three days after the World Health Organization declared an influenza pandemic.
The emergence of the virus in April triggered a worldwide health scare and accelerated sharp falls in passenger travel.
Defense businesses are likewise bracing for spending cuts.