Airbus, Boeing Intensify Rivalry

Airbus and its archrival Boeing intensified their rivalry Feb. 22 as the European firm announced plans to push deeper into the key Asian market while Boeing trumpeted a stretched version of the venerable 747 jumbo.

The B747-8 is Boeing's answer to the double-decker Airbus A380, the largest commercial airliner ever built, which is to enter service for the first time later this year with Singapore Airlines.

As part of its bid to conquer the Asian aviation market Airbus said it plans to build a final assembly line in China and an engineering and services center in India, which the industry says will lead global growth in air passenger traffic over the next 20 years. Airbus said total orders last year gave it a 52% share of the global market. But the company has previously admitted it was behind Boeing in wide-body, long-range order intake, where the U.S. manufacturer had 55% market share last year.

Boeing is hoping its B747-8 will help it maintain that long-range dominance. It is a reconfiguration of the familiar 747 jumbo with its bubble-shaped partial upper deck that adds 34 more seats for a total of 450 seats. And it does not require the reconfiguration of airports necessitated by the massive A380, said Dinesh Keskar, Boeing's senior vice president for sales.

Both manufacturers promote the operating costs and fuel efficiency of their respective behemoths.

The global market for new aircraft could drop by more than half this year after a record 2005, said John Leahy, commercial director for Airbus. "The trend line would be around 800-850," he said. "We expect a little softening." In 2005 Airbus and Boeing together booked net orders of 2,057.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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