Boeing pours scorn on Airbus rival to 7E7

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The Independent Online

Boeing has dismissed plans by Airbus to launch a rival airliner to compete with its 250-seater jet the 7E7 Dreamliner.

The US aircraft manufacturer said its European competitor would not be able to develop an all-new aeroplane in the same timescale and if the Airbus jet was merely a variant of an existing product, then it would not be as attractive to airlines.

Mike Bair, the Boeing vice-president in charge of the 7E7 programme, said: "We are comfortable that Airbus will have difficulty getting a significant share of the market unless they do something which is all new and that will take time."

He was speaking as speculation grew that Airbus will shortly announce the development of a new mid-sized twin-aisle aircraft, the A350, to try to prevent Boeing dominating the market when the 7E7 enters service in 2008. The specialist magazine Flight International reported last week that Airbus had told suppliers to gear up for the first flight of the A350 in mid-2008. The magazine said the Airbus aircraft would be based on its existing A330 but, like the 7E7, would have all-new engines and a high level of composites in its airframe.

Mr Bair said he remained confident of ending the year with orders for at least 200 7E7s, adding that customers had not put off buying the aircraft by indications that Airbus was about to offer a rival jet. So far, Boeing has announced 52 firm orders for the 7E7 from two airlines - All Nippon Airways and Air New Zealand - and has letters of intent from two charter operators, First Choice of the UK and Italy's Blue Panorama. But Mr Bair said he expected several more airlines to sign up by the end of the year, possibly including its first US airline customer and a scheduled European carrier.

Boeing puts the market for the aircraft at 3,500 over the next 20 years. It claims the $125m aircraft will be 20 per cent more fuel efficient and 10 per cent cheaper to operate overall than similar-sized jets currently in service. Because more than 50 per cent of the aircraft is made from composite materials rather than the conventional aluminium, the cabins will need to be less pressurised, which should mean less fatigue, dehydration and headaches for passengers.

Mr Bair said Boeing had always assumed Airbus would enter the market with a competing aircraft which was aggressively priced. But this would not affect the prospects for the 7E7 or force Boeing to cut the price. He said a variant of the A330 would not be a realistic competitor to the 7E7 because it would have 2,200 miles less range and would not be able to match the Boeing aircraft's operating economies.

The US government, backed strongly by Boeing, is trying to prevent the four Airbus partner governments - Britain, France, Germany and Spain - from providing launch aid for a new aircraft, arguing that Airbus is now profitable and no longer needs state support.

Meanwhile, Boeing is expected to launch a stretched version of its best-selling 747 jumbo jet by the end of the year to draw airline customers away from the 555-seater Airbus A380 super-jumbo. The 747 Advanced is likely to enter service around the end of the decade.