HUGE MISTAKE OR HUGE SUCCESS? AIRBUS ALL IN ON NEED FOR A380 - BUT BOEING STILL DOUBTFUL

It was an unlikely gathering of aviation rivals from opposite sides of the Atlantic. At the Four Seasons Hotel in Munich, Germany, officials from Airbus and The Boeing Co. had wrapped up two days of meetings with an extravagant dinner. But...


Although Boeing has more than 60 orders for the 747-8 freighter, so far only Lufthansa, another A380 customer, has ordered the passenger version of the 747-8. British Airways, one of the biggest remaining 747 operators, had been considered an ideal candidate, given its large fleet of 747s, to order the 747-8. But it liked the A380 better.

Boeing has said it remains confident that it will get more orders for the passenger version of the 747-8.

Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the 747-8 is essentially a replacement plane for the 747-400.

"Anyone who flies a 747 today is a likely candidate for the 747-8, he said.

Just as they are for the A380.

Airbus has said it needs more than 400 orders just to break even as a result of the difficult birth the A380 has had.

Aboulafia said the actual break-even number may never be known because of the steep discounts Airbus has given customers. The company does not disclose how much airlines are paying for the A380, which has a list price of about $320 million.

"Not only will they not reach that figure (of 400 sales), but I don't believe it is relevant because it does not speak to pricing," Aboulafia said. "If they sell 400 planes but at 60 percent discount, is that the break-even number? I doubt it."

In its latest market forecast, Airbus said airlines will need 1,600 planes the size of the 747 or bigger during the next 20 years. Of those, about 400 will be freighters.

Boeing, however, sees that large airplane market much differently.

The total demand for planes with more than 400 seats over the next 20 years, according to Boeing's forecast, is 960 planes, of which 590 will be passenger models and the rest freighters.

"We are betting on a different future," Tinseth said.

"For a number of years, Airbus has had this very large forecast for very large planes and it seems to be blowing in the wind of what airlines are actually doing, how they are buying planes and planning their networks."

Tinseth noted that the total A380 sales to date over the past seven years, when combined with 747-8 sales, is consistent with Boeing's market forecast for large planes and not the Airbus forecast.

"This is probably the greatest debate we have had in our industry in 20 years," Tinseth said.

"It's clear the 787 market is big. But the jury is still out as to how big that large-airplane market segment is."

Meanwhile, it's finally time for another group of people to weigh in about the soon-to-be biggest commercial jetliner - the passengers who will fly on it.

P-I aerospace reporter

James Wallace can be

reached at 206-448-8040

or jameswallace@seattlepi.com

Read his Aerospace blog at

blog.seattlepi.com/aerospace.

HOW WAS THE FLIGHT?

P-I aerospace reporter James Wallace is among the members of the media that Singapore Airlines invited on the first commercial flight of the A380, from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. Read his report after the big Airbus jet arrives in Sydney early Thursday, Seattle time, at seattlepi.com and in Friday's editions.

BATTLE OF THE JUMBO JETS

Airbus and The Boeing Co. have competing visions for the jumbo jet market. The all-new Airbus A380 enters service Thursday with Singapore Airlines and will carry 471 passengers, although it's certified to carry nearly 900 passengers and crew. Instead of developing a new plane of that size, Boeing plans to revamp its 747, which first entered service in 1970.

%% SIDE BY SIDE

AIRBUS A380 BOEING 747-400 BOEING 747-8

Typical seating, three class* 525 416 467

Range with max. passengers 8,200 7,260 8,000

(in nautical miles)

Cruise speed 0.85 mach 0.85 mach 0.85 mach

Cabin width 19 ft. 5 in. (upper)

21 ft. 7 in. (main) 20 ft. 20 ft. 1 in.

Max. takeoff weight 1,235,000 lbs. 875,000 lbs. 970,000 lbs.

Max. fuel capacity 81,890 gal. 57,285 gal. 64,225 gal.

Width 261 ft. 8 in. 211 ft. 5 in. 224 ft. 7 in.

Length 239 ft. 3 in. 231 ft. 10 in. 250 ft. 9 in.

Height 79 ft. 7 in 63 ft. 8 in. 64 FT. 2 in.

*Singapore Airlines has configured its A380 to seat

471 passengers, and its 747-400 to seat 372-375. %% A380 ORDERS

Emirates: 47

Qantas Airways: 20

Singapore Airlines: 19

Lufthansa: 15

Air France: 12

ILFC: 10

Malaysia Airlines: 6

Thai Airways: 6

Virgin Atlantic: 6

China Southern: 5

Kingfisher Airlines: 5

Korean Air: 5

Qatar Airways: 4

Etihad: 4

Total: 165

COMMITMENTS

British Airways: 12

Emirates: 8

Grupo Marsans: 4

Total: 24

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