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AMR Places Big Order for New Jets

Despite a volatile economy and a $360 million third-quarter adjusted loss, American Airlines parent AMR (AMR) said Wednesday it has ordered 42 Boeing (BA) 787 jets and has options for 58 more.

"This is a difficult decision in these incredibly volatile times, but it is fundamental to the long-term strategy of the company, and we felt it was a wise decision to make," said Dan Garton, executive vice president for marketing, in an interview.

"Airlines are often criticized for buying at the peak and having the airplanes delivered four years later, for buying when things are great and then having the [deliveries] when things are bad," he said.

The order has a book value of $20 billion, but airlines invariably pay less than book value for new aircraft. Garton said American is not concerned about financing, since the first delivery is four years off. "It's very likely there will be some slippage to the original schedule," given delays in the 787 program and the ongoing strike at Boeing.

While it's rare for a carrier to acknowledge that an order might not be on schedule the day it's placed, Garton noted that "it's not ideal to enter into an agreement when you have uncertainty, but it's a reality we have to face." The planes would replace aging widebodies in the American fleet, including Airbus 300s, as well as 767s and 777s.

The first 42 deliveries are scheduled for 2012 to 2018, with the 58 option deliveries tentatively planned for 2015 to 2020. The deal is contingent on American reaching an agreement with its pilots to fly the aircraft.

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