TOULOUSE, France -- Nobody will watch the debut this month of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner with greater interest than the 600 Airbus engineers here working around the clock to design a rival midsize jet.
The Airbus workers will be waiting for the production miscues that are inevitable in an aircraft as groundbreaking as the Dreamliner, made largely of composite materials. And they will try to steer their new plane clear of similar pitfalls when it rolls out in 2012.
That's one perk of being late, very late, to market, Airbus officials say.
Because of earlier strategic and design mistakes, Airbus' answer to the hot-selling Dreamliner, the A350 XWB, trails its counterpart by five years, a long lag time for an industry in which competing models usually debut within a year or two of each other.
Boeing has grabbed the early sales lead, racking up about 500 more orders for the 787 than Airbus has garnered for the A350. But officials at Airbus think their aircraft will be technically superior, in part because they will watch and learn from Boeing and take advantage of technological advances.
"Five years is a lot [of time], but it's a very useful lot," said Alan Pardoe, director of product marketing for the A350 and other long-range Airbus aircraft. "We've got five years more of materials, technology, development and research. Plus, we've got the airline endorsement of what Boeing is doing with the airplane to guide us."
And on the A380:
Airbus also is trying to reclaim its reputation for top-flight engineering, which was tarnished with the embarrassing glitch that delayed production of its flagship, the double-decker A380 jet, by two years.
"The A380 is on track," said John Leahy, Airbus' chief operating officer and top salesman. "The first airplane will be delivered in October, and we're taking that production rate up to nearly 50 [planes] per year. We haven't forgotten how to build airplanes, much as the people in Seattle would like you to believe." While Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, its major facilities are on the West Coast.
Good to hear some direct quotes. They also outline the intention to avoid any mistakes like those on the A380.