- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

FARNBOROUGH, England (AP) — Airbus scrambled to revive its sagging order book and credibility yesterday, announcing a costly and ambitious revamping of its troubled A350 program to compete with two of rival Boeing Co.’s best-selling jets.

More than three years after Boeing introduced its long-range, fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner, European rival Airbus increased investment in its own mid-size plane to close to $10 billion.

“This is an entirely new design, without compromise and using all the latest technology,” new Airbus Chief Executive Officer Christian Streiff told reporters on the first day of Britain’s Farnborough Air Show, one of the biggest trade events in the aviation industry.

The previous version of the planned A350 had been billed as a rival to the 787, but had won just 100 firm orders — compared with 360 for the Dreamliner. Airbus also fell behind on total order value last year as its larger A340 jet lost ground to Boeing’s more efficient 777.

The new A350XWB — with “extra-wide body” — will take on both the Dreamliner and the 777.

Airbus’ airline customers had been increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction with the previous A350 program. The company and its parent, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., suffered a further setback last month when they announced a seven-month delay to the flagship A380 superjumbo.

“Yes, Airbus is in the middle of a serious crisis in our relationship with our customers,” Mr. Streiff said. “Yes, this is something we are taking extremely seriously inside Airbus, and yes, we know the competition is taking advantage of this today.”

In a surprise setback for Boeing, however, the plane maker appeared to jump the gun on a potential sale of 777s to Qatar Airways.

Boeing put out — and then recalled — a release announcing an order for 20 of the jets valued at $4.9 billion shortly after Qatar canceled a press conference.

Boeing spokesman Peter Conte later said that the order had been booked for several weeks to an unidentified customer and that the order books would not be altered.

“It’s nothing having to do with the deal. The deal is done,” he said.

But Qatar Airways said that no contract had been signed with Boeing and that it was in talks with both Boeing and Airbus about orders.

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