International Airlines Group unveiled orders for 18 Airbus A350 long-haul aircraft for its British Airways arm and said it was in further talks with Airbus and Boeing to secure more planes for its Iberia unit.
The $6 billion order for the largest version of Airbus' newest jet is seen likely to step up competition with Boeing over the lucrative "mini-jumbo" plane market, currently dominated by the U.S. manufacturer's wide-bodied 777.
Reuters reported on April 7 that BA was close to ordering around 20 of the 350-seat A350-1000s, deepening its presence at one of Boeing's most loyal big-jet buyers and putting pressure on its rival to speed up a revamp of the hugely successful 777.
BA is about to receive its first of 12 A380 superjumbos but the A350 deal marks its first purchase of European twin-engined long-haul jets, one of the most hotly contested market segments.
Boeing has said it continues to see IAG as an important customer and industry sources say there is a good chance BA will also buy any future enhanced version of the twin-engined 777.
IAG said it had placed 18 firm orders for the A350-1000, worth $332 million each at list prices, along with 18 options.
These are in addition to previously announced plans to convert 18 options for Boeing's 787 long-haul planes.
For Spanish flag carrier Iberia, IAG said it had reached agreement with Airbus and Boeing to secure commercial terms and delivery slots that "could lead to firm orders for A350s and/or or for Boeing 787s". Airbus is the commercial airline arm of European aerospace group EADS.
Firm orders would only be made when Iberia is in a position to grow profitably after restructuring, IAG said.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Editing by Tim Hepher)