Airbus Vows Its New Long-Range Models Will Stall Boeing's 777 and 787 Sales

Airbus expects to deliver close to 430 planes in 2006, it said yesterday -adding a more bullish tone to its forecast and pledging a new long-range model by summer to battle archrival Boeing.

Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert said the planemaker, 80 per cent owned by Franco-German-Spanish firm EADS, would deliver "closer to 430" aircraft in 2006, for a growth rate of 13 per cent.

Airbus, a major source of work for aerospace component manufacturers in the West Midlands, previously had said it expected deliveries to rise at least ten per cent this year, implying deliveries of at least 416 following a record 378 in 2005.

Mr Humbert is under pressure to spell out what Airbus will do to stem slow sales in long-range models, a niche where Boeing is performing well with its 777 and the new 787 due in 2008.

He said Airbus was studying a number of improvements to its proposed A350 model and reiterated that a decision would come in time for the Farnborough air show near London this July.

"The message to our competitor (Boeing) is clear: the game is not over yet, it will just start in the summer," he said.

Both makers are coming off a record year in orders in 2005 but Airbus, which narrowly held on as top seller, relied far more heavily on cheaper, smaller single-aisle models.

It has booked 100 orders for its proposed A350 twin-aisle model due in 2010 and hopes to add to these as large potential deals loom in the Arab Gulf and Asia.

Mr Humbert said Airbus is looking at plans to improve the proposed A350, a move he said would boost its chances of winning major orders from Singapore Airlines and Emirates.

Emirates has said it might buy as many as 100 mid-sized planes, but is in no hurry to commit. "Singapore were ready to make a decision at the beginning of May and delayed," Mr Humbert said.

"I think one of the reasons is that we told them we would work on the A350."

"What we are doing inside Airbus is getting attraction from our customers and we are starting to get momentum," he told reporters at the Berlin air show.

Airbus launched the A350 last year but has been criticised by key customers including Singapore Airlines for plans to base the A350 on the 20-year-old A330 model.

Meanwhile, British test pilot Ed Strongman will be at the controls todayas the world's biggest passenger airliner, the Airbus A380, flies into Britain for the first time.

The 555-seater double-decker plane, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines made in Derby, is flying from the Berlin Air Show to Heathrow airport.

Among those greeting the 240ft-long aircraft at Heathrow's new pounds 105 million pier six at Terminal 3 will be Chancellor Gordon Brown.

En route from Berlin, Mr Strongman and his crew will be taking the pounds 170 million plane over two Airbus UK plants - Broughton in North Wales, where the A380's huge wings are made, and Filton in Bristol.

The A380, which is due to go into passenger service at the end of this year, will stay at Heathrow for airport-compatibility tests before returning to Berlin in the early hours of Friday morning.

Heathrow operator BAA is spending pounds 450 million to enable the airport to be ready to take the A380 and other ultra-large aircraft of the future.

Other work has included runway resurfacing, upgrading runway lighting and new taxiways.

Airbus has so far taken 159 firm orders from 16 airlines for the A380, which has been developed at a cost of around pounds 6 billion.

Smiths Aerospace, which has plants in Cheltenham and Wolverhampton, has been selected by Boeing to provide the thrust reverser actuation system (TRAS) for the 747-8 airplane. Potential sales for the programme could exceed $100 million.

The system will be designed and manufactured at the Smiths Aerospace facility in Los Angeles with development hardware deliveries beginning in the second quarter 2007. Deliveries will take place through 2019.

Dr John Ferrie, president, Smiths Aerospace, said: "This recent win continues Smiths' leadership position in thrust reverser actuation technology."

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