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[NEW YORK] Boeing is fighting tough efforts by rival Airbus to score big gains in the market for long-haul jets, a segment of the massive aircraft market that the US giant has dominated.
Neck-and-neck with Boeing in sales of single-aisle, 150-200 passenger jets, Airbus has badly lagged its US archrival in wide-body aircraft with 250-450 seats.
But Airbus has high hopes for its new A350, which it says is "setting a new standard of efficiency in its class" with a lightweight, carbon fiber composition that can save up to 25 per cent in fuel consumption.
Airbus believes the A350 can compete with Boeing's classic 777 aircraft as well as the its heavily-touted 787 Dreamliner, which also boasts carbon fiber construction to cut weight.
But Boeing executives say they are confident the US company's lead will stick.
Airbus "still don't have the market coverage we do, especially on the upper end of the market," said Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth.
"You see it with the orders. You see it with the market share. They are just not doing that well." Tinseth said Airbus would need to develop a new version of its A350 with 450 seats to compete with the Boeing 777-9X.
But some analysts see a more competitive landscape than Boeing is letting on.
"If you exclude the 777-9X, the other models can run the same routes with the same capacity and a similar level of performance," said Michel Merluzeau, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
Airbus has "got a foot in the market of the 787 and a foot in the market of the 777," Mr Merluzeau added.
JUMBO JET DEMAND RISING
The appeal of long-haul aircraft is the same for both of the world-leading aircraft makers: greater profits.
Whereas Boeing's smaller 737 line sells for US$78-$113 million, the 787 is listed at US$218-$297 million and the 777 at US$269-$388 million.
A new round of jumbo plane orders is expected from carriers seeking to cut their fuel costs.
Demand for the bigger planes will reach 7,800 units worth about US$1 trillion in the coming 20 years, according to Airbus.
Boeing currently leads with about 55 per cent of the market. It has logged 1,105 orders for the 787 against 780 for the Airbus 350, according to the most recent figures.
But Airbus has had some major wins of late. In November, US carrier Delta Air Lines announced a firm order for 25 new A350 widebodies.
"You can't debate the fact that it is a massive endorsement of your product line," said Airbus chief operating officer for customers, John Leahy.
Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier has set a goal of winning more than half the global market.
To win market share, it is offering aggressive commercial terms to carriers, as suggested by Airbus accounts: in 2014, Boeing had a profit margin of 10.7 per cent per order compared with six per cent at Airbus.
Boeing remains a step ahead in the race for delivering large planes, producing ten 787s per month since the middle of 2014 with plans to reach 12 per month in 2016.
Airbus plans to produce 15 of the A350 in 2015 with output reaching 10 per month in 2018.
"Boeing should be able to maintain its market share through the end of this decade," said an analyst note from Trefis.
Recent successful launches by Boeing in the 777 and 787 lines should allow it to "maintain its lead over Airbus in the wide-body airplane segment," Trefis added.