As the Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its official international debut at Farnborough in the UK this weekend, Airbus was holding a ceremony of its own on mainland Europe, proving that it doesn't intend to be left behind by its US competitor.

The Dreamliner, a "next-generation" airliner built from lighter composite materials, touched down at Farnborough on Sunday, July 18, with Boeing expecting a slew of orders at the air show.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the first aircraft to be constructed using carbon fibre-reinforced plastic,  commonly used in tennis rackets, high-end bikes, cars and laptop cases.

It also has the largest windows in any commercial airline and can fly for longer more efficiently, meaning that airlines such as ANA, Continental, Virgin Atlantic and Tui Travel can plan new routes for passengers.

Commentators and airlines were quick to praise the aircraft's improved comfort for passengers, noting in particular the advanced pressurization system that is designed to reduce fatigue and headaches on long haul flights.

While the focus was on Farnborough, however, Airbus was quietly finishing a giant new hangar in the German city of Hamburg, where the fuselage of its new A350 XWB (Xtra-Wide-Body) aircraft will be assembled.

The A350 XWB, following Boeing's lead, will also be built with composites, and will share a similar range and fuel efficiency, but Airbus claims that the seats will be slightly wider than those proposed for the 787.

In most configurations, the A350 XWB will also carry more passengers, with the advanced model due for release in 2015 having a maximum capacity of over 400.

Airlines hope that the light, fast composite aircraft will allow them to connect cities more efficiently, spending less on fuel and driving down ticket prices for customers.

As usual though, the proof is in the flying - and with rumors suggesting that the 787 could be delayed until 2011 and the A350 XWB not due to be delivered until 2013, passengers will have to wait some time to find out whether composites deliver everything they promise.

The Farnborough Air Show runs July 19 - 25 in Farnborough, United Kingdom.

http://www.farnborough.com

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