By Alwyn Scott and Maria Sheahan
PARIS (Reuters) - Orders at the Paris Airshow surpassed $100 billion on Wednesday, as planemakers Boeing and Airbus cashed in on demand for fuel-efficient jets and growth in both budget carriers and emerging markets.
Ryanair, Europe's biggest low-cost airline, finalized an order for 175 Boeing 737-800 aircraft worth around $15.6 billion at list prices on day three of the aerospace industry's showcase event, the largest single order ever placed by a European airline with the U.S. group.
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said he was also working on an order for 200 or more of Boeing's next-generation 737 MAX planes this year, potentially worth around $20 billion at list prices.
Not to be overshadowed, Airbus sealed a long-awaited order for 25 of its lightweight, wide-body A350 planes from Air France-KLM worth $7.2 billion at list prices, as previously reported by Reuters.
The A350 is Airbus' answer to Boeing's popular carbon-composite Dreamliner, and the battle between the two models has been a key feature of the Paris show, as the two planemakers jostle to meet soaring demand for air travel in emerging markets, especially Asia and the Middle East.
Airbus also clinched an order for six A330-300 aircraft and commitments to buy four A350-900s from SriLankan Airlines in a deal worth $2.6 billion at list prices.
Wednesday's dealmaking took the order count for the show so far to more than $100 billion at list prices, although many of the agreements were provisional and most sizable deals are struck at a significant discount.
Nonetheless, the activity confirmed plenty of work for civil aircraft manufacturers for years to come.
Ryanair's O'Leary said the planned purchase of Boeing 737 MAX jets later this year would be "all growth" and not replacements for aircraft currently in its all-Boeing fleet.
If the order was not at least 200 planes, "it wouldn't be worth doing," he added, in typically forthright style.
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
The 737 MAX is Boeing's answer to the Airbus A320neo, a new version of the European planemaker's best-selling model.
Boeing earlier on Wednesday moved forward by six months the date of the plane's planned entry into service, saying it will be in the third quarter of 2017, almost two years after the A320neo.
O'Leary said a senior team from Boeing and Ryanair was working on a 737 MAX order and that the airline was giving serious consideration to rival Airbus' A320neo jet, though Ryanair has not purchased any Airbus jets and the European planemaker has repeatedly dampened the idea.
"We're hopeful that we reach agreement on price of a MAX order sometime before the end of the year," O'Leary said, adding the 737 MAX offered better fuel economy than the A320neo, and room for nine extra seats.
He forecast Ryanair would grow to carry 100 million passengers a year in the next four or five years, from around 80 million currently.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter)