Kisses Fly at Air Show as AirAsia Signs Expo’s Biggest Jet Order

Business reserve gave way to raw emotion when AirAsia Bhd. signed Airbus’s biggest deal yet at this year’s Farnborough Air Show, with the executives of both companies exchanging kisses and man-hugs.

Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier grabbed his counterpart at AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, and planted a kiss on his cheek after Fernandes said he’d buy 50 A330-900neo airliners. The passion on display at the press conference flowed from Fernandes to John Leahy, the Airbus sales chief, who found himself on the receiving end of another peck.

Fernandes, a long-term proponent of the A330neo, recounted how he’d been abruptly interrupted yesterday by a cohort of Airbus sales executives, who tracked him down on a vacation in Capri in Italy to complete the deal in time for the air show. Talks progressed into the night as the two sides boarded a plane to make their way to the expo south of London, he said.

“I was having great time in Capri, and the idyllic vision got destroyed by John Leahy’s face,” Fernandes quipped. “It was amazing we were able to complete the deal.”

In the space of little more than a decade, Fernandes has built an airline that is now the largest Airbus customer by the number of aircraft, topping 600 units. The A330neo, which Fernandes has said will be a “killer” aircraft, will help him save fuel costs thanks to new engines.

Airbus has harnessed this year’s air show to win orders for the A330neo, with aircraft leasing companies including Air Lease Corp. and CIT Group’s Inc.’s leasing arm placing deals. Fernandes was the first airline customer to order the model, and he will be first to receive it, Bregier said.

“Thank you for giving us a wonderful aircraft,” Fernandes said to the Airbus executives gathered to witness the signing. “The first ever time you came to see me you bought me an ice cream.”

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