Airbus Vows to Fight Boeing for a Massive Jet Order That Could Mark the 737 Max's Turnaround

Bloomberg / Benjamin Katz and Christopher Jasper
British Airways' owner said it would purchase 200 737 Max aircraft, which are still grounded

Airbus vowed to contend for a mammoth narrow-body order that its chief rival Boeing announced in stunning fashion at the Paris Air Show.

Speaking at a final press conference from Le Bourget airfield outside of Paris on Thursday, Airbus sales chief Christian Scherer said the European planemaker never received a request for proposals — a document that formally launches most major aircraft contracts — from British Airways owner IAG SA.

The secret negotiations resulted in the surprise of the show: a letter of intent from IAG — currently an Airbus-only narrow-body customer — to purchase 200 of Boeing’s grounded 737 Max aircraft.

The shocker, announced midway through this week’s exhibition, helped Boeing turn around a gloomy mood in Paris and instill confidence in the 737 Max, which has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes.

Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury said he would be very happy to fight for the deal before it develops into a final contract.

The Boeing agreement was outlined as a letter of intent, meaning that negotiations over the details will need to be firmed in coming months.

In many ways, the U.S. planemaker couldn’t have found a better buyer than IAG to endorse the Max, whose future has been clouded as regulators demand fixes to make the plane safer. IAG is a savvy aircraft buyer and is led by a former 737 pilot, CEO Willie Walsh.