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JAL breaks with Boeing, buys Airbus A350s

New twin-jet slated to replace carrier's fleet of 777s starting in 2019

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japan Airlines Co. announced plans Monday to purchase at least 31 Airbus A350 midsize jets to replace its aging Boeing 777s in a milestone move that cracks the U.S. plane maker’s virtual monopoly on Japan.

France-based Airbus SAS has long sought to expand its presence in the Japanese market, whose top carriers, JAL and All Nippon Airways, faithfully stuck with Boeing Co. jetliners.

“In a nutshell, the A350 meets our demands in the best way,” JAL President Yoshiharu Ueki said at a joint news conference with Airbus in Tokyo.

Ueki said JAL has mainly four priorities: safety, quality with long-term usability, economic efficiency, and acceptable timing for replacing existing planes.

He said the 31-unit order for the A350, which is expected to begin commercial flights next year, is final and gives JAL the option to buy 25 more of the twin-jets. He said the details of the expanded deal haven’t been decided.

Ueki said JAL’s exact investment in the A350 is confidential, but stands at about ¥950 billion, based on catalog prices.

JAL, which owns about 220 planes, has enjoyed close ties with Boeing for decades, but the carrier is apparently looking to widen its options after dealing with the turmoil caused by the new trouble-prone Boeing 787 earlier this year.

“Indeed there was a time when we couldn’t use the Boeing 787 and this caused inconvenience, for which I’d like to apologize. But the decision we’ve made this time regarding the new planes has nothing to do with that issue,” Ueki claimed.

JAL aims to begin flying the A350s in 2019 and says it will take about six years to replace its 777s.

For Airbus, this is a major opportunity to expand in Japan.

“Clearly, what we are signing today is a breakthrough,” Airbus President Fabrice Bregier said, stressing the importance of the Japanese market and grabbing opportunities amid tough global competition. JAL rival ANA Holdings Inc. might also give Airbus some business.

The A350 comes in three versions — the A350-800, -900 and -1000. Airbus said the A350 offers between 270 and 350 seats and is 25 percent more fuel-efficient than the Boeing 777.