World and Nation

Airbus loosens Boeing’s US grip on Japan’s market

TOKYO — In selling planes to airlines, Boeing has long counted on the United States as its local market. Its big rival, Airbus, holds the home-field advantage in Europe. And the two compete head to head virtually everywhere else.

Except for Japan. It is Asia’s second-biggest airline market, and for reasons tracing to World War II had been all but a captive buyer of U.S. airplanes.

On Monday, that changed.

As beaming European diplomats looked on here, Airbus announced a $9.5 billion order from Japan Airlines, finally breaking through Boeing’s market fortress.

For JAL, as the airline is known, the contract is partly about diversifying its suppliers — and the need for a class of new planes that Airbus can deliver sooner than Boeing. And as the world’s airlines are demanding new generations of fuel-efficient planes, both Boeing and Airbus are likely to continue receiving orders that will take them years to fill. That may be why Boeing’s stock price barely budged through midday trading in New York on Monday, while the shares of Airbus’ parent, the European consortium EADS, were up 1.7 percent in Europe.

Analysts nonetheless saw it as a blow to Boeing, which has stumbled of late over problems with its 787 Dreamliner, most notably in Japan.

“Certainly this is the big order Airbus was hoping for, the big foot in the door that could lead to new orders,” said Will Horton, an analyst at the CAPA Center for Aviation in Hong Kong.

JAL and Airbus said the airline would buy 31 A350 wide-body long-distance jets, which are expected to replace Boeing 777s. Airbus is set to begin deliveries of the A350, a new plane that made its first test flight in June, to the airline in 2019.

Boeing has its own replacement planned for the 777, which it refers to as the 777X, but that aircraft is not as far along in development at the Airbus A350. And after battery problems grounded Boeing Dreamliners for months this year, JAL indicated a need for a second aircraft supplier.

“I think that there was some recognition that maybe you do need to have dual-sourcing,” Scott Hamilton, managing director of the Leeham Co., an aviation consulting firm in Issaquah, Wash., said Monday.

“I think the fact that Airbus could deliver the A350 before the 777X is part of it,” he said. “And I’m sure JAL got a hell of a deal.”

Boeing declined to comment, other than issuing a statement that read in part: “Although we are disappointed with the selection, we will continue to provide the most efficient and innovative products and services that meet longer-term fleet requirements for Japan Airlines. We have built a strong relationship with Japan Airlines over the last 50 years and we look to continue our partnership going forward.”

European governments went out of their way to acknowledge the symbolism of Airbus’ Japanese breakthrough. Diplomats from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union were on hand as the purchase agreement was signed.