Asia Latest Battleground for World's Top Aircraft Makers

Airlines across Asia are buying new planes as the region's booming economy spurs demand for air travel, making it the latest battleground for the world's two top aircraft makers: Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS.

Airbus chief Noel Forgeard said the company is confident of overtaking Boeing's 787 with its planned A350, even though the former has an early lead with 237 firm orders. Airbus hopes to get 50 orders for A350 by the Paris Air Show in June, and another 50 by the year-end.

''It is a battle that will last about 20 years - like the battle that occurred between the Boeing 767 and the A330, which we won,'' Forgeard said.

The battle, however, is not limited to corporate boardrooms. National politics and bilateral ties have a significant bearing on airlines' decisions on new planes.

So days before the Air India's board meeting, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta visited New Delhi and said Washington-New Delhi relations would benefit if Boeing gets the order. Many saw this week's Air India decision as a balancing act in diplomacy. Air India's domestic counterpart, Indian Airlines, had earlier decided to buy 42 planes from Airbus. That decision had followed a visit by the French prime minister to India three years ago.

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