Airbus may hike A350-1000 output in "mini-jumbo" battle

Mon Oct 22, 2012 6:33am EDT
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus EAD.PA is looking at increasing planned production for the largest member of its A350 family to power its next important struggle with Boeing (BA.N: Quote) for a lucrative corner of the jet market, two people familiar with the matter said.

The plans emerge on the eve of Tuesday's inauguration in Toulouse, southwest France, of an assembly factory for the A350, which is being developed at an estimated cost of $15 billion.

The lightweight carbon-composite aircraft is Airbus's answer to two categories of Boeing long-haul jet: the 787 Dreamliner, which pioneered the large-scale of fuel-saving materials, and the more traditional metallic but still popular 365-seat 777.

The largest variant, the 350-seat A350-1000, will allow Airbus to compete directly with the twin-engined 777 "mini-jumbo". The duel is shaping as the next major aviation battle, with sales of up to 2,000 jets at stake over the next 20 years.

Airbus blames a shortage of delivery slots for slow sales of the A350-1000, which has notched up 88 orders and seen several cancellations since launch, though its U.S. rival claims Airbus was wrong to try to compete in two segments with one plane.

Raising production would free up more slots to be sold.

"Airbus is looking at ways of increasing A350-1000 production," a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether this would be at the expense of production for the two smaller models of A350 or mean an increase in total production. There has been speculation the A350-800 could be scaled back to focus on larger models.   Continued...