Wide-body jets dominate Paris Airshow amid muted US presence

Boeing seen launching new 787 at Paris event; Airbus could net hundreds of orders; budget cuts hit US military presence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 11:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 4:19am

Leading planemakers are battling over strategy for big jets as the Paris Air Show got under way yesterday.

After a bruising two-year fight for market share for smaller models, Airbus and Boeing are increasing the deployment of next-generation long-range jets, seen as crucial to the future of both companies and their suppliers.

Days after it surprised the industry by making the first flight of its new A350 just in time for the show, Airbus will attempt a curtain call on Friday with a fly-by for the French president, Francois Hollande, on only the plane's third test.

"People are focusing on long-haul aircraft this year. It is a crucial segment and a fundamental one for the profitability of both constructors," said Bruno Goutard, an economist at credit insurer Euler Hermes, which has a key role in aviation.

Boeing said last week it saw a US$1 trillion market over the next 20 years for medium-sized, twin-engined passenger jets, a category that includes its 787 Dreamliner. Europe's Airbus and its US rival have placed bets worth tens of billions of dollars on the success of this market.

Behind them Canada's Bombardier is betting the same technology will be suitable for smaller planes as it seeks to boost orders for its new CSeries, due to fly this month.

Brazil's Embraer is expected to announce an upgrade and possible fresh orders for its regional E-Jet.

For Boeing, the latest addition to its fleet, the 323-seat 787-10, is partly designed to serve dense routes within Asia - a region fast emerging as the world's largest travel market.

The company claims it will have the best economics of its kind, while Airbus sees it as a repeat of a previous 767 flop.

Boeing reintroduced the 787 Dreamliner to service in April after a three-month grounding due to battery problems. Now it is also looking at a partial redesign of its 777 mini-jumbo, too.

The decision to go ahead and build a new 787 version, backed by up to 100 orders spread between five or six launch customers, is expected to be announced at Le Bourget today. Some orders may be converted from existing demand for smaller jets.

"We have no comment but we are having discussions with our customers about the potential for the 787-10X," a Boeing spokesman said, referring to the project's working name.

Leasing companies are at the event in force and could continue placing orders for narrow-body planes like the Boeing 737 MAX and the A320neo, as the civil side of the industry looks beyond the financial crisis and focuses on emerging markets. Lufthansa could confirm an US$11 billion order for more than 100 Airbus jets. Air France may confirm an order for 25 A350s after resolving disagreements with engine maker Rolls-Royce as the planemaker targets a "few hundred" show orders this week.

Breathing life into recently slow sales of the world's largest airliner, Airbus could win a double-digit order for the A380 superjumbo from Doric Asset Finance.

The military side of the world's largest aerospace event looks set to be quiet. US companies have scaled back but all eyes will be on the return of Russian fighters.

Budget cuts prevented the US government from bringing F-16 jets. Lockheed Martin Corp, maker of the F-16 and F-35 fighter jets, did not bring even the mock-up model of the F-35, the Pentagon's largest programme which faces concerns about costs.