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Airbus superjumbo A380 grounded at Paris Air Show

- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2011

LE BOURGET, FRANCE (AP) - One of Airbus' star jets was grounded after clipping a wing on a taxiway structure, the latest in a string of embarrassments for the European planemaker at the aviation industry's premier showcase.

The A380 superjumbo suffered damage to its wing tip Sunday after the slow-speed collision with a building at the Le Bourget airport, where the air show is taking place, EADS spokesman Alexander Reinhardt said Monday.

Airbus quickly found a replacement jet for demonstration flights during the air show, an A380 operated by Korean Air. But the plane maker is still facing other setbacks.

The Airbus A400M military transport plane had to cancel a demonstration flight because of what the manufacturer described as a minor gearbox problem, although the aircraft will still make a fly-over during President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the air show on Monday, Reinhardt said.

On Saturday, Airbus announced that two of the three versions of its new widebody jet, the A350, would be delayed about two years.

The stretched A350-1000 is being pushed back to 2017 to give engine supplier Rolls Royce time to develop a more powerful motor that will extend the jet's range, Airbus said. The standard version of the plane, the A350-900, is still expected to arrive in the second half of 2013, Airbus said.

Airbus takes on its traditional rival Boeing Co. at the air show, where both are expected to announce a string of orders as they vie for the position of biggest planemaker in the world.

Qatar Airways announced an order for six Boeing 777 planes in a $1.7 billion deal at the start of the show Monday.

Beyond the rivalry, the search for more environmentally friendly aircraft is shaping up as a major theme of this year's Paris Air Show, the world's largest and oldest aviation showcase.

The aviation industry has suffered this year from skyrocketing fuel costs and bleak forecasts for the international air transport market.

The International Air Transport Association last month warned that natural disasters in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and rising fuel prices would cause airline industry profits to collapse only a year after they'd begun to recover from the global economic crisis.

More than 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries have signed up to take part in the weeklong event showcasing both commercial and defense aircraft. Airbus expects to bag bountiful orders for a new, more fuel-efficient version of its workhorse A320 shorthaul jet, while Boeing is spotlighting its new mid-range 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 intercontinental passenger jets.

Gallois said the air show, at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, "will confirm the success of the A320neo," a revamped version of the standard A320 reengineered to be 15 percent more fuel efficient.

Airbus has booked more than 330 orders and commitments for the A320neo since its commercial launch last December, including from airlines IndiGo, Virgin American, Brazil's TAM and airplane leasing company ILFC.

Airlines squeezed by higher fuel prices are rushing to order the jet, which isn't scheduled to come into service until late 2015. Boeing hasn't yet chosen how it will respond, but top marketing executive Randy Tinseth said last week it would decide in the coming months whether to upgrade its existing 737 model or design a whole new plane, which wouldn't be in the air until the end of the decade.

Boeing and Honeywell are both boasting of having the first biofuel-powered trans-Atlantic flight, with Boeing flying in its 747-8 freighter from Seattle on a mix of biofuel and jet fuel, while Honeywell touts the "green jet fuel" it developed to power a Gulfstream business jet on its way from New Jersey to Le Bourget just in time for the air show kickoff.

EADS will also demonstrate the world's first diesel-electric hybrid aircraft at the show, another leg in its strategy of cutting its fleet's carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Skyrocketing fuel costs are a major issue for Airbus and Boeing customers, who will see their profits plunge to $4 billion this year from $18 billion in 2010, according to the IATA forecast released earlier this month.

Major airlines have increased fares seven times since the start of the year as fuel prices rose.

The airshow will also be the battleground in the yearly showdown between Boeing and Airbus for dominance in booking new orders. Airlines in fast-growing Asian and Middle Eastern countries have been ordering hundreds of new aircraft to meet skyrocketing air traffic in those regions.

Airbus edged out Boeing at last year's Farnborough International Airshow, racking up deals totaling $13.2 billion, while Chicago-based Boeing's commitments came in at $12.8 billion.

Those results were both a big improvement over the results of the last Paris Air Show in 2009, when many airlines closed their checkbooks in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Last week Boeing Co. upped its forecast for aircraft demand over the next 20 years, saying airlines will need $4 trillion worth of new planes to meet a pickup in passenger numbers, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Going into next week's event, Airbus has taken in 176 gross orders this year, compared to Boeing's 183 gross orders.

Boeing is the world's No. 2 commercial jet maker after Airbus, based on 2010 deliveries. Airbus delivered 510 commercial planes last year, compared with 462 for Boeing.

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Jamey Keaten at Le Bourget contributed to this report.

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