The latest chapter in the storied aviation rivalry between Boeing and Airbus
ramped up this week in Paris, where the jetmakers' fight over the widebody jet
market has become a top plot line at the 2013 Paris Air Show.
The high-profile event kicked off in Le Bourget, just outside Paris, Monday morning, barely 72 hours after Airbus made the maiden flight on its new-age A350 model. Airbus hopes the A350 can help it level the playing field with Boeing and its widebody portfolio -- especially Boeing's revolutionary 787 "Dreamliner."
The A350 and Boeing's 787 are the first commercial jets to be made with lightweight carbon composites, enhancing their fuel efficiency.
The Dreamliner began flying passengers in 2011. It was grounded in mid-January for about four months following incidents with the jet's batteries. The jet has since been cleared to fly again. Airbus' current A350 version made its first test flight this past Friday and is expected to enter passenger service next year.
"It's going to be a fight," Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said on the eve of the Paris Air Show's official start.
The show lived up to that billing in its first day, with each side securing pledges from airlines for new orders.
Boeing secured a new order from Qatar Airways for Boeing's long-haul workhorse, the 777-300ER.
"You know, I like to make announcements at this very prestigious aerospace event," Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said. "Today is no exception. Qatar Airways is glad to be back at Le Bourget," Al Baker continued, underscoring the reverence many industry insiders have for the Paris Air Show before getting into the details of an order for nine additional 777-300ERs.
Boeing also landed a commitment from airline leasing company GECAS for its new 787-10 Dreamliner. That's the biggest version of the new-age jet that Boeing has not yet officially launched -- though Boeing officials hinted that an announcement could come at the Air Show this week, possibly as early as today.
"There's more to come," Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said from the show Monday afternoon while trying to talk over the roar of fighter jets racing overhead in an aerial display.
As for Airbus, it secured a memorandum of understanding for a new order for its behemoth A380 superjumbo jet. If converted into a firm order, the deal with German aircraft leasing company Doric would be worth more than $8 billion. The order gives a much-needed jolt to Airbus' A380 program, which had seen no new orders during the past year.
Boeing and Airbus each added news for orders for their smaller narrow-body fleets as well, but it's been the increasingly hyped duel over the widebody market that's stayed in the spotlight.
On that front, Airbus has been generating increasing buzz on the possibility that its A350 might follow up Friday's maiden flight by making an as-of-yet unscheduled fly-over.
And if a duel is to come in the widebody market, Boeing officials say they're ready. "We look forward to it. I think that's going to be a great competition," Conner said from Paris. "Our customers are going to benefit from the fact that both companies are going to have a (competitive) widebody product line."
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