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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jet Orders, Eurofighter Start Show

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Britain on Monday gave the green light to the long-delayed Eurofighter advanced combat jet and called for more European aerospace mergers to combat the industry's U.S. giants.

The Eurofighter announcement kick-started Britain's biggest-ever air show, at which U.S. groups Boeing and McDonnell Douglas fired the first salvos in a fierce transatlantic fight for civil aviation orders.

At the biennial air show, Boeing launched a new 300-seat version of its 757 jet and announced orders totaling $6.36 billion from seven airlines.

McDonnell Douglas said it was selling six aircraft to four airline customers in a deal worth $365 million.

The ?40-billion ($60-billion) Eurofighter, delayed several years by technical hitches and political rows, was given a major boost by Britain's carefully timed announcement made before the world's leading plane buyers.

"Our assessment is that Eurofighter is the best available combat aircraft to meet the needs of the post-Cold War strategic environment," Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine said at this southern English airfield.

Britain is to purchase 232 of the jets, opening the way for the production program to start.

Heseltine urged Britain's joint-venture partners in Germany, Italy and Spain to follow suit.

"We want a decision as quickly as we can get it,"he said.

With the U.S. aviation industry launched on a string of mergers to sharpen its challenge in an increasingly crowded market, Heseltine urged Europe to do the same.

"This process is unstoppable and very, very desirable," he said.

Heseltine said integration was vital as research and development costs soared.

"The projects of tomorrow are going to be very, very expensive," he said at the show, attended by more than 1,000 exhibitors from 60 countries.