Boeing, Airbus face off to promote their jets

/ Source: The Associated Press

The world’s two largest plane makers faced off Wednesday to promote their jets in Asia, with Boeing dismissing archrival Airbus’ predictions of enthusiastic demand for its A380 superjumbo, saying few carriers want such a large jet.

Airbus retorted that Boeing’s pessimistic projection was “silly” given the rapid growth of air travel, particularly in Asia.

Airbus’ 550-seat A380, the star exhibit at this week’s Asian Aerospace show in Singapore, will become the world’s biggest commercial passenger plane when it is scheduled to enter service with Singapore Airlines at the end of the year.

But Boeing Co. officials insisted the market for the double-decker A380 is relatively small, and said it had no immediate plans to build planes of the same size.

Boeing’s vice president of marketing, Randy Baseler, said the company’s market analysis shows only about 300 passenger planes the size of the A380 were needed globally.

“We are not at this point in time addressing that 300 airplanes of above 500 seats, because we don’t believe that that is an area worth spending a lot of money on because it’s a relatively small market,” Baseler told reporters. “Airbus, if they want to make a stretch and dilute their share ... it’s OK with us.”

Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, said its Chicago-based foe was underestimating demand.

“We see between 1,500 and 1,600 aircraft in that category,” said John Leahy, chief operating officer for customers, of the European consortium. “Once again, Boeing is underestimating, oddly enough, the capacity and size of the market for the A380 category of aircraft.”

Airbus predicts that with the international aviation market growing at a 5-6 percent pace every year recently, there will be plenty of demand for its superjumbo, which can seat as many as 800 in a single economy class configuration.

“Boeing has sold over 1,100-1,200 747s, so I think it’s rather silly to say the market for this aircraft is only about 300,” Leahy said.

Boeing hopes its new the 450-seat 747-8, a modification of the 747-400 plane, will plug the 200-seat gap between the A380 and other large wide-bodied planes such as Airbus’ A340-600 and Boeing’s 777-300ER and 747-400.

Baseler said there was interest in the 747-8, a more fuel-efficient version that will be ready for delivery in 2010, even from airlines which already have the A380.

“Because there’s a hundred-seat difference, so they aren’t addressing exactly the same market,” Baseler said.

It projected selling at least 450 747-8 jets — 300 passenger planes and about 150 freighters. Orders were made last year for the freighter, but none have come in yet for the passenger plane.