- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

PARIS (AP) — Airbus got the go-ahead yesterday to start taking orders for the A350, a new mid-sized passenger plane it hopes will be the nemesis of its rival Boeing’s 7E7 Dreamliner.

In a change of tack from “superjumbos,” Airbus won support for its plan to spend close to $5.3 billion developing the jet, which it claims will fly more passengers farther than the 7E7 — trumpeted by Chicago-based Boeing Co. for its fuel-efficiency.

European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., which owns 80 percent of Airbus, agreed to launch the A350 commercially at a board meeting in Amsterdam yesterday. Britain’s BAE Systems PLC, which owns the rest of Airbus, also gave its approval.

The new Airbus could spell more bad news for Boeing’s passenger jets arm, which is set to deliver fewer planes than its Toulouse, France-based rival for the second straight year in 2004.

It is also likely to intensify tensions both between the aircraft builders and between Washington and the European Union, currently headed for a World Trade Organization hearing over subsidies.

John Leahy, chief commercial officer of Airbus, said it was “no accident” that with less than three weeks before the end of the year, Boeing has signed only 52 of the 200 firm orders it pledged to win by then for its 7E7.

“There must be a reason,” Mr. Leahy said, “and the reason is the A350.”

Boeing’s vice president for marketing, Randy Baseler, said some of his clients had discussed the A350 with Airbus but that other factors were delaying 7E7 orders, and he insisted Boeing could still reach 200 by year-end.

Mr. Baseler also dismissed the A350 as a “15-year-old derivative airplane with a new engine on it.”

Airbus said its new plane will have the same cockpit and similar onboard systems to its existing A330 jet but will weigh 8.8 tons less, allowing for its heavier engines. The new engines, to be supplied initially by General Electric Co., will benefit from technologies developed for the 7E7.

With a catalog price of about $154 million, the A350 will enter service in the first half of 2010 in two configurations, Airbus said. The longer-range version will have a range of 8,600 nautical miles with 245 passengers in a three-class cabin.

Boeing says its farthest-flying 7E7, due to take to the sky two years earlier, will have a range of 8,500 nautical miles with 217 passengers on board and a price tag of $120 million.

Airbus’ Mr. Leahy also predicted that the A350’s operating cost per seat would come in “6 to 7 percent” lower than the 7E7’s.

But analysts said it’s too early to pick a winner.

“You can call all these numbers highly theoretical, of course,” said analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group, a Fairfax aviation consultant. “It’s not like we’re at the wind tunnel stage yet.”

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