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Airbus Unveils Largest Commercial Jet
Airbus Unveils Largest Commercial Jet
01.18.2005, 05:15 PM

Airbus put its stamp on aviation history Tuesday, unveiling the world's largest commercial jet and raising the stakes in its 35-year rivalry with Boeing Co.

The double-decker A380 "superjumbo," capable of flying up to 800 passengers, gives the European plane maker a new flagship and completes its range of jets at a time when Boeing is losing market share and reducing some production.

French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders struck a triumphal note at the ceremony, hailing the A380 as a sign of Europe's capacity to generate world-beating industries.

"It's a symbol of economic strength, technological innovation, the dedication of the work force that built it and above all of a confidence that we can compete and win in the global market," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

But the A380, which was partially funded by European governments, amounts to a huge bet that carriers need ever-bigger planes to process a growing numbers of passengers through the busiest hub airports. Airbus is investing $13 billion to develop the plane, which has a list price of $280 million apiece and is scheduled for its first commercial flight in 2006.

If Airbus is right, the A380 could consign the once-dominant Boeing 747 jumbo jet to history, deal a further blow to the Chicago-based company and leave Airbus with a monopoly in a lucrative and fast-growing market. Boeing would need 10 years or more to develop a rival to the A380, industry experts say.

But if its sales forecasts prove to be too optimistic or the new plane's production costs soar, then the Airbus lead over Boeing in plane deliveries over the past two years could disappear.

Boeing sees a different future, one in which industry deregulation and smaller, long-range planes like its planned two-aisle 7E7 Dreamliner allow passengers increasingly to fly direct, spurning stopovers. The 7E7, which will seat between 217 and 289 passengers, is scheduled to debut in 2008.

But Boeing is hedging its bets. Last year, it announced plans for a larger, 450-seat 747, despite having previously dismissed the need - and Airbus' plans - for a bigger plane. A launch decision is expected in mid-2005.

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