"IndiGo commits to 180 A320s, largest jet order in aviation history."
-- Headline on Airbus press release, Jan. 11, 2011.

There's no downplaying the significance of the win Airbus booked yesterday -- or its PR value. In one fell swoop, Boeing's (NYSE: BA) biggest rival scored a crushing victory. The order from Indian discount airline IndiGo is so big it could keep Airbus busy building A320 airliners non-stop, for a single customer, for at least five months.

And yes, Airbus made airplane-hawking history with this deal, selling both more planes in one sit-down than ever before, and landing one of the biggest deals ever in terms of dollar value. Valued at $15 billion in total (at list prices, admittedly, which never happen), this is Airbus's biggest coup ever. It's 50% bigger than the United Continental (NYSE: UAL) deal that Boeing and Airbus tussled over last year.

With the bulk of the planes on order being of the new "A320neo" variety, it's proof-positive that customers like Airbus's latest plane upgrade (which, incidentally, could add to the pressure on Boeing to "re-engine" its own line of 737 jets). But big as the news is, is it a knock-out blow to Boeing?

In a word: "No."

Surprise, surprise (not)
For one thing, while the headline came as a shock, we've actually known about the IndiGo order for some time. As far back as May, reports were circulating that IndiGo had petitioned the Indian government to acquire at least 150 new A320s. Plus, IndiGo was already a big Airbus customer (it's in the midst of taking delivery of a separate 100-plane A320 order as we speak.)

When you consider that IndiGo is a discount carrier a la our own Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), and so aims to keep its maintenance and training costs as low as possible, it was never likely the company would create a mismatched fleet of Boeings and Airbuses. Simply put, this was Airbus's sale to lose -- but Boeing never had a chance of winning IndiGo's business.

What now?
OK, so great news for Airbus; and not bad news for Boeing. Fine and dandy -- but how do you play the news?

My advice: Since you cannot conveniently invest in non-U.S.-listed Airbus, turn your attention instead to the U.S. companies that might benefit from the IndiGo order -- the engine makers. The press release didn't disclose who will put engines on the planes; both United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) make A320-ready engines. Chances are, though (and for the same simpler-is-better reasons mentioned above), that IndiGo will choose engines from United Technologies, which already makes the engines used on IndiGo's current A320 fleet. Second to Airbus, UTC's the likely biggest winner from India's airfleet expansion.

Southwest Airlines is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, and Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Southwest. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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