In an exclusive story Friday morning, Reuters reports that Airbus is talking to potential customers for a new twin-engine, dual-aisle wide-body jet to compete with Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) 777-9, the larger of the two planes in the new 777X family. Airbus has designated the new jet the A350-8000.
The new Airbus plane’s capacity would be about 400 and its range would be similar to the 777-9. The big difference is that the plane would not be built to meet requirements for takeoffs and landings in the blistering temperatures of the Middle East. Airbus is aiming at two primary customers: Singapore Airlines and British Airways.
John Leahy, Airbus’s chief operating officer for customers, told reporters at the ISTAT conference in Phoenix that the company is “showing [the A350-8000] to customers right now.” Leahy also said that the new plane would have lower seat-mile costs than the 777-9.
The dual-engine, wide-body passenger jet is where Boeing expects to see most of its profit over the next several years. The 787 Dreamliner and the 777X family are Boeing’s entries into a market that both aircraft makers anticipate generating around $2 trillion in sales over the next 20 years. Boeing cannot afford to lose its battle with Airbus in this segment of the market.
Singapore Airlines took delivery of its first A350-900 this week and has been evaluating the 777-9 for months. That plane seats 325 passengers, and Singapore Airlines has ordered 67, including seven capable of non-stop flights of up to 19 hours (14,350 km, or about 8,900 miles). Adding more passengers and approaching the 777-9’s range are critical to Airbus.
Boeing’s marketing chief, Randy Tinseth, told Reuters, “We’re not surprised that Airbus is attempting to fill a hole in its product lineup after losing market share to the 777X. At the end of the day, we’ll still have the better airplane.”
Boeing’s 777-9 has a range of about 8,750 miles and the smaller, lighter 777-8’s range is just a bit over 10,000 miles. The 777-9 can seat up to 425 passengers.