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Mon, Jan 17, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Boeing scotches production of superjumbo airliner


US aircraft maker Boeing has decided not to build a new jet to compete directly with the superjumbo A380 of arch-rival Airbus, saying its tried and true 747 will satisfy limited worldwide demand for bigger planes.

Airbus plans to unveil its A380 amid great pomp in Toulouse, France tomorrow.

But according to Boeing, Airbus' market projections are too optimistic.

The giant European manufacturer predicts that 1,500 A380s will sell over the next 20 years.

It expects its new model to represent 25 to 30 percent of those sales starting in 2008 -- about 35 deliveries a year.

Boeing says the market can't absorb more than 320 500-plus-seat planes in the next two decades.

The A380 can seat 555 passengers in coach, and up to 840 charter, making it a very economical mode of transport.

But its size limits it to the largest airports, and even they must upgrade their facilities to enable the A380 to land.

Passengers "would have to take several small aircraft to get to the hubs," major airports where the A380 can land, said Leslie Nichols, a spokeswoman for Boeing.

"The 747 can access 210 airports in the world, whereas the A380 will be able to access 29 airports by 2009," Nichols said.

Boeing is also betting against a move towards bigger planes.

"Even though airplane travel has grown overall, the reliance on hubs has declined while non-stop service has increased. The demand for large aircraft has decreased," said Amanda Landers, another Boeing spokeswoman.

Boeing's largest aircraft, the 747-400, has 416 seats.

The group could decide by June whether to develop a new version -- the 747 "Advanced" -- which would seat 450. Boeing says that size will satisfy the demand for superjumbo jets.

"After four years, Airbus has 139 commitments from 14 customers for the A380. Boeing had 165 orders from 21 customers for the 747-400 after its first four years," Landers said.

But many analysts are in line with Airbus's industry predictions.

"The A380 provides good economics in an environment where a growing number of airports in large cities are more and more congested," said John Ash, president of the consulting firm Intervistas-GA2.

In his view, expanding air travel will mean bigger planes, rather than more flights.

Roman Szuper, an analyst with Standard and Poor's, said that Airbus will find itself in a monopoly position and may be able to stay on top of the emerging market for superjumbo jets for a long time.

"It was similar with the 747. There was no competition for several decades," he said.

But Boeing is keeping a door open in case the future proves it wrong, Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher has made clear.

Boeing might consider building a new jet to compete directly with the A380 if demand for such an aircraft is strong enough, Stonecipher said in a German newspaper interview in November.

"We estimate demand at around 400 aircraft. Airbus is forecasting 1,500 jets over the next 20 years. Time will tell who is right. If demand increases, we'll build a supersize aircraft," Stonecipher told the daily Die Welt in remarks reproduced in German.

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