Airbus opens A350 plant to meet rising competition

Tue Oct 23, 2012 5:31am EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Jean Décotte

TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - European planemaker Airbus inaugurated a factory for its A350 jetliner on Tuesday, sparking a new phase in the race for fuel efficiency and profits with U.S. rival Boeing.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault fought through fog and an air traffic control strike to fly to Toulouse, southwest France, to name the plant after "Father of Airbus" Roger Beteille, a pioneer of twin-engined long haul passenger jets.

Built in response to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the A350 is Europe's first contribution to a new generation of jets designed to cut airline fuel bills by using mainly lightweight carbon-composite materials instead of the heavier aluminum.

Airbus and Boeing expect total demand for more than 6,000 such mid-sized, long-range jets over the next 20 years and their arrival is leading to new routes bypassing crowded hub airports.

It is a market worth several hundreds of billions of dollars and is set to upstage the largest jetliners such as the Airbus A380 superjumbo and the latest version of Boeing's 747.

But both firms face huge construction challenges for the revolutionary jets, woven and baked out of carbon fiber that is stronger and lighter than metal but costlier to produce. Neither the A350 nor the 787 is expected to make a profit for years.

Airbus says the A350 will take to the skies in the summer of 2013 and enter service in the second half of 2014, a year later than originally scheduled. Three different models of the aircraft will seat between 270 and 350 people.

The competing 787 went into service in Japan a year ago after complications with a ground-breaking production system and global supply chain delayed its first deliveries by three years.   Continued...

A miniature replica of Airbus A380 is seen in front of Airbus logo. REUTERS/Arko Datta