By Alwyn Scott and Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) - Boeing launched a larger version of its flagship Dreamliner aircraft at the Paris Airshow on Tuesday, sharpening the battle with rival Airbus in the booming market for fuel-efficient, long-distance jets.
The much-anticipated announcement of the 787-10 Dreamliner, with 102 firm orders worth nearly $30 billion at list prices, is a vote of support for the lightweight, carbon-composite jet just months after the first version was grounded by battery problems.
It came shortly after Airbus clinched an $11.5 billion order from British budget airline easyJet for 135 of its A320neos on day two of the aerospace industry's showcase event.
Boeing and Airbus slug it out for the lion's share of the $100 billion-a-year global jet market.
In the past couple of years, the battle has centered on the market for popular smaller models. But the focus has shifted in recent months to the next generation of larger planes, with Airbus successfully completing a test flight of its answer to the Dreamliner - the A350 - on the eve of the Paris show.
"We promised a strong launch and we have achieved it," Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said at a signing ceremony on Tuesday.
The buyers of the new 787-10 are Air Lease Corp and Singapore Airlines with 30 planes each, United Airlines with 20, British Airways with 12, and GE Capital Services with 10.
The third variant of the Dreamliner family will have a range of 7,000 nautical miles, with seating for up to 330 passengers. It will be 25 percent more efficient to operate than current comparable planes, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner said.
The 787-8, introduced in late 2011, was grounded worldwide in January after its lithium-ion batteries overheated on two jets in about a week. It resumed commercial service in May after Boeing installed a redesigned battery system on the 50 jets in service.
The plane "will be one of the most powerful wide-body aircraft for decades ahead", Air Lease chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy said at the ceremony. "We believe it will be very profitable for us."
In a moment of levity, Conner introduced Chief Executive McNerney to speak before the ceremonial contracts had been signed and then said: "I think we forgot to do the contract."
"I forgot to bring my checkbook," Udvar-Hazy quipped. "I'll give you an IOU."
Boeing said it was already designing the new jet and that it expected to begin final assembly in 2017, with the first delivery scheduled for 2018.
United said it expected to receive its first 787-10 in 2018, while Udvar-Hazy said Air Lease would take first delivery in the spring of 2019. United's order includes 10 new planes and 10 conversions from the earlier 787-9 model, due for first flight later this year. GECAS' order was announced on Monday.
Air Lease also ordered an additional three 787-9s for a total of 33 new aircraft. It already had 12 787-9s on order.
Airbus's A320neo order from easyJet included 35 current generation planes and 100 next-generation versions, with options for a further 100 aircraft.
The order followed a bitter competition with Boeing, which had been keen to win back one of the world's largest budget airlines a decade after losing to Airbus in a fight-out that became sucked into the world's largest trade dispute over aircraft aid.
(Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter)