Airbus SAS could secure a 100-plane order, valued at $24 billion at list prices, for its newest twin-aisle model from Emirates after developing a wider body and more efficient wing, the Middle Eastern airline says.
"There was a canyon" between the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, President Tim Clark said Tuesday after reviewing the A350's design at the planemaker's headquarters. "That gap has closed. Airbus listened."
Airbus has struggled to maintain its dominance in the field, while the A380 superjumbo jet is two years late on first deliveries and after airlines snubbed the original A350 design. Development of the new 250- to 350-seat model, dubbed XWB, was approved in December.
"This will definitely put price pressure on Boeing, but it's nothing they weren't expecting," Richard Pinkham, a Singapore-based consultant with the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said Wednesday. "They had a nice run where they were the only game in town, but they knew it wouldn't last."
Chicago-based Boeing, which has begun major assembly of the 787, is on schedule to deliver the first one in May 2008 and is working with suppliers on how to build more to meet demand.
The plane is sold out until the "back end" of 2013, program manager Michael Bair said last month. The A350 XWB will enter service in 2013.
Boeing is counting on the 787, called the Dreamliner, to win back dominance of the $60 billion jetliner market from Airbus.
"Middle East airlines have in recent years been bigger customers of Airbus than Boeing, with most operators opting for Airbus equipment for both their narrow- and wide-body fleets," Pinkham said. "This makes the A350, if it is a truly comparable product to the 787, in many ways a logical choice."
The A350 is bound to be less expensive than the 787, and Emirates, the largest Arab airline, might want to keep its fleet in balance between the two manufacturers for price-negotiating reasons, Pinkham said.
Emirates is "reassessing" fleet requirements over the next 10 to 15 years. The A350 is "significantly better than aircraft we have today," Clark said.
The 787 also "fits all those categories," Clark said. Choosing between the two planes will be difficult "because they both do brilliant jobs."
Emirates is considering the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental in addition to the A350 and 787, but will not make a decision any time soon, Clark said.
Emirates is the biggest customer of Airbus' 555-seat A380 and has 45 of the planes on order. The airline will take delivery of the first next year, 21 months late, because of manufacturing delays.
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