- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

LE BOURGET, France — Aircraft of all descriptions are arriving for the Paris Air Show, but the global aerospace industry’s main gathering looks certain to be dominated more than ever this year by its biggest rivalry: the Boeing-Airbus dogfight.

Planes and helicopters have been flying in since early this week to take their places on the runway at Le Bourget, north of Paris, where they will go on display Monday alongside aeronautic and military hardware ranging from flight simulators to missiles.

Among them, the Airbus A380 “superjumbo” is bound to get the most attention at its first air-show appearance — even as the European aircraft maker is struggling to maintain the lead it took from its U.S. rival two years ago.

The 555-seater A380, which arrives tomorrow, is Airbus’ bet on a strong market for very large planes, while Boeing Co. sees more demand for long-range, midsize jets such as its fuel-efficient 787, which enters service in 2008.

After a slow start, Boeing’s “Dreamliner” has drawn a surge of orders and commitments, to a total of 266. But the Airbus A350 — the European company’s answer to the 787 — is having trouble getting off the ground, with just 10 nonbinding orders to date, and a trans-Atlantic trade dispute threatening its planned funding.

Airbus’ top plane salesman, John Leahy, had vowed to close some of the 787’s lead, saying more than 100 A350 orders would be clinched in time to be announced at Le Bourget.

But his task cannot have been made any easier by the apparent setback to the A350 announced Wednesday, when parent company European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. said the program was on track for a final go-ahead “by the end of September” instead of next week, as many had expected.

Airbus spokesman David Velupillai declined to say yesterday whether the earlier target stands and would not elaborate on reasons for the new September deadline — although EADS said Wednesday it was keen to avoid straining resources for other aircraft programs.

Airbus recently acknowledged that the first A380s will be delivered as much as six months late, and several of its 15 early customers said they will seek compensation under the terms of their contracts.

Plans to use cheap loans from European governments to fund one-third of the A350’s $4.9 billion development cost are at the center of a bitter trans-Atlantic trade dispute over plane subsidies, after Washington filed a complaint against the European Union at the World Trade Organization last month and Brussels reciprocated.

No final decision has been announced on whether the government aid will be used — a factor that Randy Baseler, Boeing’s vice president for marketing, believes could be holding the A350 back.

“I don’t think they can announce the launch of an airplane and then apply for aid afterward,” Mr. Baseler said yesterday. “So that might be a reason they’re delaying too.”

In a three-class configuration, Airbus says the A350 will carry a maximum of 285 passengers 7,500 nautical miles. By comparison, the larger of the two long-haul 787 versions will carry 259 passengers 8,300 nautical miles, Boeing says. Scale models of both planes will be on show at Le Bourget.

The newest addition to Boeing’s airliner family, the 777-240LR, flew into Le Bourget early yesterday and will be part of the static displays, featuring a total of 1,916 exhibitors from 41 countries.

There will be 238 working planes and helicopters present — an 18 percent increase on the previous Paris Air Show in 2003, when the industry was still suffering the aftershock of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

On the military side, aerobatic performances by rival fighter planes will help to underscore the dominant theme of trans-Atlantic competition.

Louis Le Portz, chairman and CEO of Le Bourget organizer PLBpe, said both the Rafale fighter from France’s Dassault Aviation and Boeing’s F-15 Eagle will be among some 60 aircraft that stage display flights. The two planes are competing for a lucrative deal to supply 20 fighters to Singapore’s armed forces.

The air show opens to the public for three days on Friday, after four days reserved for industry visitors and government delegations.

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