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Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Headwinds buffet Boeing's plans for long-range jet

Boeing's new super long-range jet can't quite go the distance on the Sydney to London route, but airlines like Qantas still expect it to open up new markets

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

At the mid-point of its first globe circling tour, at Sydney Airport, Boeing's 777-200LR "Worldliner" had a problem. Despite a slogan reading "Going the Distance," Lars Andersen, the head of the 777 program, admitted there was one notable exception.

"This jet cannot fly Sydney to London non-stop,'" he said. "[It] is easy on paper. This jet can fly non-stop with a full load of up to 301 passengers and 11 tonnes of cargo for 17,446km (Sydney-London is 17,016km). But there is just something about this route (from Australia to London): It gets the most continuous head wind conditions of any. We can't overcome them with a commercially feasible payload, yet flying the other way with a continuous tail wind is no problem at all."

But was Boeing upset? Not for a minute. Despite this one notable exception, Andersen says the plane maker expects to sell a least 400 Worldliners, include a freighter version, over the next 20 years, mainly to Asia-Pacific carriers, including Qantas, the Australian flag carrier. The first of them will enter service for Pakistan International Airlines and EVA Air, based in Taiwan, early next year.

In fact it is considered an all but a done deal by insiders that Qantas is going to include some Worldliners among an order for 40 new Boeings that will be announced as soon as the arm-wrestling over the final price is agreed.

Qantas is just as excited about the Worldliner as it is by the giant Airbus A380 for which it is an early but very annoyed customer because the world's largest airliner is running very late on the production line.

Hub-buster

The airline's chief executive officer, Geoff Dixon, said they wanted a hub buster. Qantas wants to be able to fly non-stop to destinations which, at the moment, can only be reached by stopping off along the way.

However Dixon has been more candid talking to financial analysts than the press.

He has reminded them that Qantas really wants to fly right over the top of Singapore and Dubai in particular, on its flights to London, because they are the hub cities of Singapore Airlines and Emirates which he describes as the enemy because of their claimed unfair access to government subsidies.

Dixon accuses them of unfairly curbing Qantas' access to their home markets while exploiting the traffic rights they gained in cities like Sydney in return for Australian carriers being able to land and refuel en route to Europe.

This is also precisely the argument Singapore Airlines used over a year ago when it introduced the world's longest non-stop routes so far between Singapore and Los Angeles and New York City using the Airbus A340-500 which has about 1000km less range than the new Boeing.

The then CEO of Singapore Airlines, Cheong Choong Kong, said in 2003, "We have become frustrated by the restrictions we experienced getting more access to Japan traffic so this special Airbus enables us to by-pass Tokyo on the way to California or New York."

The only thing Singapore Airlines and other leading Asia-Pacific carriers including Qantas appear to agree on is that the complex web of air traffic agreements that apply to the region is best avoided by using jets that fly over the restrictions at 13,000m.

Dixon said: "It is much easier to have a traffic treaty about flights between two countries, than between and beyond two countries."

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