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PARIS, June 21 (Reuters) - Boeing Vice Chairman Ray Conner on Wednesday sealed his last air show deal before retiring, signing off with the conversion of ten orders to the new 737 MAX 10 model for Donghai Airlines in China, where near-record traffic growth is powering aviation.
Conner signed the deal to add the Shenzhen-based airline to a list of launch customers for the new jet at the Paris Airshow, calling it "great to finish up this way" and expressing satisfaction that it was with an "all-Boeing customer."
The deal for jets worth $1.2 billion was signed at an emotional ceremony at Boeing's air show base as sales vice president Ihssane Mounir hailed a "very good friend, mentor and boss."
Donghai Chairman Wong Cho-Bau said he was happy to sign Conner's last deal but could not resist a final tweak of the negotiations, joking that he wanted "early delivery positions."
He also said he was considering other purchases from Boeing to expand the group's fleet.
Conner, previously chief executive of Boeing's planemaking division, is due to retire officially at the end of the year but will wind up most day-to-day activities after the show.
Conner joined Boeing as a mechanic 40 years ago on the 727 assembly line, working his way up to become the company's sales chief and then boss of the commercial planemaking division.
He was replaced as head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes last November by former General Electric executive Kevin McAllister.
Conner was credited with cementing a shift in the company's strategy for single-aisle jets and focusing on market share.
Six months into the job, he faced a four-month grounding of the 787 Dreamliner due to battery problems, from which Boeing emerged without losing any customers but with wounded pride, and set about stabilizing production of the new high-tech jet.
But he clashed with unions over employment and efforts to make Boeing more competitive against Europe's Airbus.
His departure marks a turning point coinciding with the planned retirement later this year of Airbus sales chief John Leahy, another industry veteran who went head to head with Conner in pursuit of deals worth tens of billions of dollars.
"Ray is the best salesman I have ever known at Boeing and a friend," Philippe Petitcolin, chief executive of engine supplier Safran, told Reuters. (Reporting by Tim Hepher, Giulia Segreti; Editing by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman)