WRAPUP 1-Airline chiefs interested in new Boeing jet
By Bradley Perrett, European aerospace & defence correspondent
LONDON, March 30 (Reuters) - Leading airlines backed a Boeing Co plan to build a radical high-speed airliner on Friday but said there was also room for Airbus Industrie's A380 superjumbo.
"We are excited that Boeing has taken on this challenge," James Goodwin, chairman and CEO of UAL Corp , which owns United Airlines.
Investors in Airbus majority shareholder EADS
were unfazed, driving the company's shares 2.79 percent higher to 21.10 euros on Boeing's Thursday announcement that, while focusing on the new fast airliner, it would shelve the 747X, a touted rival to the giant A380.
"The Boeing decision to abandon the 747X only reinforces our belief that we can sell 750 A380 planes between now and 2019," Philippe Camus, one EADS's two chief executives, told Reuters in an interview.
But analysts pounced on the prospect of Boeing's fast plane fleecing the A380 of its business class, despite Airbus proposing that the superjumbo would have spacious facilities.
"The business passenger will be given a choice of flying in a very large aircraft with amenities or getting to the destination hours quicker," said Tim Coombs, managing director at consultancy Aviation Economics.
"If you are a carrier like British Airways , catering to the high-margin customer, this Boeing product will look quite attractive."
Goodwin said: "We believe there is a market for both."
FASTER AND HIGHER -- BUT ONLY A PROPOSAL
While the abandonment of the 747X is a major retreat by Boeing that leaves the A380 with a monopoly, the eye-catching new plane, the Sonic Cruiser, is still only a vaguely defined proposal.
Boeing has not yet even determined its size.
Throwing away the standard airliner configuration that Boeing itself developed after World War II, the Sonic Cruiser would have a strange aft-mounted wing: a triangle with extensions sticking straight out.
This "cranked delta" configuration has previously been seen on fighters, such as the Saab Draken of the 1950s, but the Sonic Cruiser would also have little forward wings (canards).
(Boeing illustrates the plane at http://www.boeing.com/news/feature/concept/photo.html.)
It would fly at 95 percent of the speed of sound (mach .95), which is about 15 percent faster than conventional commercial planes but still less than half as fast as the Concorde.
Flying above conventional jets, the Sonic Cruiser would also encounter little traffic congestion.
British Airways Plc seems a prime candidate for the plane. The big UK carrier strongly emphasises business-class passengers and, as an enthusiastic Concorde operator, would have little hesitation in adopting an unconventional aircraft.
SINGAPORE AIRLINES (Singapore: SIAL.SI - news) INTERESTED
The Sonic Cruiser has attracted the attention of A380 buyer Singapore Airlines Ltd , one of the world's most influential carriers.
"We do have an interest," said the airline's Chief Executive, Cheong Choong Kong. "In fact, we have seen what Boeing announced before the announcement."
"We told them: 'Let's talk about it further'."
A mach .95 aircraft could slice two hours off the 13-hour trans-eurasian flights that account for much of Singapore Airlines' business. (My comment: Wonderful!!!)
Moreover, Boeing reckons the aircraft could have a range of 16,700 km (9,000 nautical miles), raising the prospect of direct flights from Southeast Asia to the United States and maybe even London to Australia, a route that currently requires a refueling stop.
"Air Canada would definitely line up in the extremely interested prospective customer category," said the airline's chief executive Robert Milton.
EADS's Camus played down the advantage of mach .95.
"With the Concorde, the difference in speed was significant but with the Boeing plane the gain is negligible and could be eaten up by delays," he said.
Airbus's other shareholder, British defence contractor BAE Systems Plc said the Boeing decision was no surprise.
"A number of us have looked at it," chairman Richard Evans said. "We've looked at it. Boeing have looked at it."
-- With additional reporting by Noah Barkin in Paris and Sean Kennedy in Hong Kong.
Star Alliance Members Give Thumbs Up To Boeing Fast-Jet
By Brian Truscott
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
LONDON (Dow Jones)--Boeing Co.'s (BA) decision to drop plans for a superjumbo airliner so that it can build a superfast, 200-seat passenger jet was cheered by Star Alliance members Friday.
The move gives Boeing the chance to enter an attractive market and nullifies the prospect of a glut in the superjumbo sector, given Airbus plans to offer its own A380 jumbo, Star Alliance executives at a press conference in London.
Air Canada (AC.A) Chief Executive Robert Milton said "it's a tactically brilliant move, if the jet is cost-effective and the price is right."
He said Boeing might find itself with an even more demand for its superfast jet than what is forecast for the Airbus superjumbo.
Air New Zealand (A.AIZ) Chief Executive Gary Toomey said the jet can fly at just under the speed of sound and would cut three hours off the travel time between Sydney and London's Heathrow airport, which would be a huge plus, especially for business travelers.
It should also make it tough for airlines that want to choose between a superfast and a superjumbo jet.
"It will come down to a choice between volume and operating profit (Airbus) and going for the high-yield business class market (Boeing)," he said.
Boeing's announcement has also brought to light some concerns that airline executives have about trying to fill a superjumbo on a regular basis.
Air Canada's Milton said he had looked at the Airbus A380 and realized the airline "could make a killing four months a year." The concern is for the other eight months of the year, when off-season passenger numbers fall off.
Singapore Airlines (Singapore: SIAL.SI - news) (P.SAL) Chief Executive Cheong Choong Kong doesn't share Milton's concerns. He said SAI's three daily flights to Heathrow are at capacity; that the airline could easily add a fourth daily flight to meet demand.
Singapore Air has ordered 10 of the Airbus A380s.
The airline has the right to add such a flight but that Heathrow's overcapacity woes means finding an appropriate landing slot would be impossible.
"There is clearly demand for larger aircraft," he said.
At the same time, he conceded that SIA would consider buying Boeing's new jet - if the price is right. (my comment: Yeah that's wot they always say!)
United Airlines Corp. (UAL) Chief Executive James Goodwin agreed, saying there will be demand for both aircraft. He said Boeing had already had extensive consultations with United over the various aspects of the future superfast jet - its size, the number of passengers it should carry, speed and the like. He added that it is still too early to talk about the potential cost of the product.
The eight-year-old Star Alliance is a code- and cost-sharing network consisting of 15 major airlines, including Lufthansa, Air Canada, United Airlines, Scandanavian Airlines and Air New Zealand.
-By Brian Truscott, Dow Joness Newswires; 44 207 842 9289; firstname.lastname@example.org
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