You'll have to excuse executives from Boeing if they appear a little smug these days. It's just that after spending much of the past two years in the shadow of Airbus' giant A380 project, the sun has been shining on their stretch of the beach again lately. At this time two years ago, the hard-pressed guys at Boeing had ditched their ill-fated Sonic Cruiser in favour of the new B7E7 project, the erstwhile name of the B787 'Dreamliner' (pictured). It had been in the market for four months with no takers and they were having a hard time drowning out the hoopla surrounding the success of Airbus' 555-seat behemoth. They were also tiring of answering questions about why the Chicago-based firm was no longer the world's biggest plane maker. Boeing's fortunes, however, began to turn around about a year ago when China's state-purchasing agent waded in with an audacious US$7.2 billion order for 60 Dreamliners. But that was overshadowed at the end of year when Airbus surprised everyone outside Toulouse by revealing it had again outpaced Boeing in orders. But the past three months have gone a bit sour for Airbus. Eclipsing Boeing in sales last year distracted many pundits from its weak showing on the long-haul front, where it sold just 15 A340s against 150 B777s for Boeing. Airbus responded by sending the prospect of an enhanced version of the A340 up the flagpole to see who would salute it. The expansion-minded Gulf carrier Emirates did, but by delaying 20 orders for the old version of the A340-600 until Airbus firmed up its proposal. The company's sales team also has been 'aggressively' pricing the A340 recently in a bid to inject a bit of life back into sales of the long-haul variant; the sale even attracted start-ups such as Hong Kong Oasis Airlines. But late last month, one of the world's most influential aircraft buyers launched a shot across Airbus' bow that must have caused more than a few sleepless nights in Toulouse. Speaking at a conference in Florida, Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman of the powerful International Lease Finance Corp, suggested Airbus should essentially scrap the present design of the A350 - its answer to the 'Dreamliner' - or be content with 25 per cent of the medium-size, long-haul market. The International Lease Finance Corp and Gecas, the aircraft lease-finance arm of General Electric, are among the biggest purchasers of aircraft on the planet. And coincidence or not, Boeing's stock last week eclipsed US$80 a share for the first time in its storied history. Airbus has received orders for 100 A350s since bringing it to market about 15 months ago against 345 for the B787, which has been in the market since April 2004. According to Mr Udvar-Hazy, the A350 was a 'good solid airplane' but patched together with elements from Airbus' existing wide-body family of aircraft. 'Airbus is at a crossroads,' he told an audience of more than 700 industry professionals. '[It] will have to deal with this or accept a silver medal instead of gold. 'We are not interested in a Band-Aid solution to the B787.' A revamp on the A350 would cost US$8 billion to US$10 billion, Mr Udvar-Hazy said, implying that ignoring the problem could be more costly. Such a move would delay its launch by about a year if - and it's a big if - Airbus could find the resources to undertake the revamp. The product development costs are beginning to wind down on the A380, with its first commercial flight scheduled for the end of this year. But fine-tuning of the model's freighter derivative is still going full bore and, with the A340 now potentially returning to the drawing table, it all may be too much for Airbus to handle. The European manufacturer's budget for research and development must surely be nearing its limit and, with the US and Europe's case over state subsidies for the industry currently winding its way through the dispute-resolving corridors at the World Trade Organisation, any cap-passing in Paris or London would be met with an uproar from Chicago. What a difference a year or two can make in the multibillion-dollar commercial aircraft industry. In the end, however, the fortunes of manufacturers tend to come and go in waves, like the orders they covet. It just appears that the guys with Boeing on their boards were the only riders to catch the last one.