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Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Airbus forecasts strong demand for bigger planes

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LONDON

Airbus predicted on Wednesday that an average of 830 new passenger aircraft would be built each year for the next two decades, and that its new A380 jumbo plane would be so successful that Boeing would be forced to develop a competitor.

The annual Airbus 20-year Global Market Forecast was far more enthusiastic about the future of huge aircraft -- planes with 450 or more seats -- than Boeing's forecasts. Boeing, in fact, has openly scoffed at Airbus' predictions of sales of more than 1,500 A380-size planes, a number Airbus raised this year to 1,650 planes, including 400 freighters.

Although the number of A380s is relatively small compared with the total 20-year forecast of aircraft with more than 100 seats -- 17,328 new passenger and freight aircraft -- the huge A380 would account for 22 percent of all new aircraft orders industrywide, or US$416 billion. They issued their forecast in dollars.

John Leahy, Airbus' chief commercial officer, predicted that Boeing would be forced to build a competitor in the 450-plus passenger range, especially if its current largest, the 747-400, is phased out under pressure from the A380.

Superjumbo

The Airbus superjumbo jet will have its ceremonial introduction in Toulouse, France, on Jan. 18 and is expected to make its first flight this spring.

"We believe they will have to do something," Leahy said of Boeing.

He added that Boeing's management team would have to retire or be phased out before the company could admit its mistake and start building a superjumbo. While calling Boeing's decision inevitable, he added: "I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong."

Average Aircraft Size

Buttressing its contention that the A380 would sell well, the European manufacturer also predicted that the recent downturn in the average number of passenger seats in commercial aircraft would be reversed, and that the average aircraft size would grow by 20 percent over the next two decades, from 181 seats currently to 215 seats.

Airbus said it had 139 firm orders and options for the A380 this year and that it expected airlines to place firm orders and take options on more than 150 by the middle of next year.

The A380 project, however, is running 1.45 billion euros, or US$1.9 billion, over budget because of work to improve the efficiency and weight of the aircraft, according to Rainer Hertrich, the co-president of Airbus' parent company, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co, or EADS, Reuters reported.

Total costs for the double-decker jet are now estimated at more than 12 billion euros, Hertrich said in Munich late Tuesday in comments that were embargoed until Wednesday. The extra costs cover the entire A380 development project, including a freight version by 2008, he said.

Airbus said there was a huge increase in orders overall this year, but that order growth should settle down to about 6 percent a year for some time, starting next year.

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