Boeing this week fired the starting gun on its high-stakes race with Airbus for mastery of the commercial airline business after taking the first order for its 7E7 Dreamliner.
Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) became the first customer for the 7E7, Boeing’s new 200-300 seat long-range aircraft.
The 50-plane order prompted Boeing’s board to officially sanction the 7E7 programme, although in reality the US giant had already invested a huge amount of money and prestige in the project.
Boeing and European rival Airbus are locked in a war of words over the future patterns of air travel and the planes that will be needed to service them. Boeing claims the 7E7 will satisfy increased demand for point-to-point services carrying smaller numbers of passengers directly between airports.
Airbus is banking on the ability of its A380 to move 550 people at a time in and out of ‘megahubs’ such as Heathrow and JFK.
Until this week, Airbus had one indisputable fact on its side – it had 129 orders for the A380 while Boeing had none for the 7E7.
But ANA said it will spend $6bn (£3.3bn) on the smaller aircraft to strengthen its route network from Japan to the rest of Asia, especially China. It will also use the 7E7-8 long haul version with its 11,000km range to fly up to 230 passengers non-stop from Japan to the West Coast of the US.
The Japanese airline claimed the fuel efficiencies gained from the lightweight 7E7 would save it more than $90m per year.
The planes will replace ANA’s existing fleet of medium-sized aircraft, made up of Boeing 767s and Airbus A321s.
ANA said it would decide on an engine supplier for its 7E7 fleet later. The choice is between Trent 1000s from UK aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce or a rival model from General Electric of the US.
Boeing will hope this week’s order is the first of many for the 7E7, which is due to enter service in 2008. The company has been in talks with 50 airlines over the aircraft, which is the cornerstone of its strategy to regain the initiative from Airbus – widely seen as having stolen a march on its US counterpart in commercial aviation.
On the day Boeing announced its launch order for the 7E7, EADS, which owns 80 per cent of Airbus, said it planned to overtake Boeing and become the world aerospace number one – including military markets – within a decade.