Mon, Jul 09, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Boeing, Airbus prepare to compete for orders at UK’s Farnborough airshow

AFP, LONDON

Boeing is set to hit back in its orders battle with rival Airbus at the upcoming Farnborough airshow, looking to take the lead in the key short-haul plane market despite a weak global economic outlook.

“The wide consensus is that this will be a Boeing show,” said Christophe Menard, an analyst at financial group Kepler Capital Markets.

US giant Boeing is looking to steal a march against European rival Airbus in the market for single-aisle, fuel-efficient commercial planes, touting its upgraded 737 MAX workhorse against the new, more fuel-efficient A320neo series.

“Boeing will definitely announce more aircraft than we do at Farnborough but I would only ask everybody ... not to just look at this year’s orders,” Airbus chief commercial officer John Leahy said last week as the group unveiled plans to build its first ever US assembly plant in a bid to keep up the pressure on Boeing.

“Look at the two years 2011 and 2012. We’ll out-sell Boeing in total in those two years. We’ll out-sell Boeing in the neo versus the Max in those two years in which both have been offered to sell — and that will keep us in a very good position,” Leahy said.

Boeing’s 737 MAX is an upgraded and more fuel efficient version of the 737, the world’s best-selling commercial airplane. The first 737 MAX is scheduled to be delivered in 2017 and is a response to the Airbus A320neo.

Airbus says the A320neo, due to enter service in late 2015, will use 15 percent less fuel than its current best-performing A320 model.

“The short-haul arena will be very interesting ... because Boeing is going to reveal more information about their plans for the 737 MAX family,” independent commercial aviation expert John Strickland said.

“In some ways, they were put on the back foot because Airbus announced the neo, which went for stunning orders at the Paris airshow last year,” Strickland said.

“Whether it’s long-haul or short-haul, in a climate of weak economic demand, especially led by Europe, and with fuel prices remaining stubbornly high, airlines are always looking at ways to improve fuel efficiency. So aircraft that deliver that are going to be really, really key,” he added.

Ahead of the UK’s biennial Farnborough show, Australian budget carrier Virgin ordered 23 of Boeing’s 737 MAX8 jets to replace the aging 737-700 portion of its fleet.

Airbus also had some good news of its own ahead of the show with its plans to open a factory on Boeing’s home turf, a gambit that would see the firm roll out its first US-built plane by 2016.

The new US$600 million assembly plant, to be built in the southern port city of Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf of Mexico, will produce the mainstay A320 family of passenger planes.

Airbus estimates 4,600 new single-aisle aircraft will be needed in the US over the next 20 years.

Boeing has raised its 20-year forecast for global demand for airliners by US$500 billion, with the market doubling to 34,000 aircraft worth US$4.5 billion.

At Farnborough, the long-haul commercial sector will also be in focus, as Boeing seeks to counter Airbus’ A380 superjumbo offer with its 747-8, an extended version of the successful 747.

Airbus will also be looking to seal more orders for its A350, its response to the 787 Dreamliner, which is now flying after long technical delays.

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