Cathay seen front-runner to ease A350 drought

Sun Jul 8, 2012 10:55am EDT
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FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - Airbus EAD.PA will be looking for a long-awaited new order for its A350-1000 mini-jumbo at this week's Farnborough Airshow, with Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific (0293.HK: Quote) tipped as most likely to end the model's three-year order drought, industry sources said.

Cathay Pacific has 36 of the A350-900 base model on order, and may add on further orders for the stretched A350-1000 or convert some of its existing orders, or both, the sources said.

Airbus and Cathay Pacific declined to comment.

Airbus says the future 350-seat carbon-composite passenger jet will be significantly more efficient than Boeing's (BA.N: Quote) 777 but has so far been unable to make a significant dent in the 777's hold on a lucrative corner of the jet market, just below 400 seats.

Airbus is building the first A350-900 test aircraft and has a total of 548 of the three variants of long-distance twinjet on order. Of these 62 are for the A350-1000.

Some Middle East airlines have complained about the range of this largest variant, prompting Airbus and engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L: Quote) to bolster the engine design and relaunch the aircraft at the Paris Air Show last year.

Airbus attributes slow sales of the A350-1000 to the lack of availability before late in this decade, but Boeing continues to post strong sales of the 777 which had a record year in 2011.

Boeing is touting a more efficient 407-seat version of its most profitable jet with new engines to try to stay ahead of the A350-1000 which is based on a lighter fuselage.

The A350 family also competes with the 787 Dreamliner.   Continued...

An airport apron controller vehicle is pictured in front of a Cathay Pacific Boeing B747-400 Aircraft on the runway at Frankfurt's airport February 21, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Domanski