Airbus questions market for near-supersonic jet
NEW YORK - A top executive of European commercial aircraft maker
Airbus Industrie on Thursday questioned the need for a new mid-size,
near-supersonic aircraft that rival U.S. Boeing Co. plans to develop.
Boeing said Thursday it had halted development of a superjumbo version
of its 747 -- intended to compete with Airbus's giant A380 -- in favor of a
smaller jet that would fly just below the speed of sound and about 20
percent faster than most current commercial jets.
The speed of sound is 750 miles per hour at sea level or 660 mph at
30,000 feet above sea level. Current commercial jets -- excluding the
lightly used and expensive supersonic Concorde -- fly below 40,000 feet at
speeds of Mach .80 to Mach .86. The new Boeing plane would fly at Mach
.95 and would fly higher than the current commercial fleet, Boeing said.
"We've looked at that," said John Leahy, Airbus's chief marketing officer,
when asked about the Boeing plans at a presentation Airbus made to Wall
Street analysts and investors Thursday.
Leahy said such an aircraft would burn 40 percent more fuel and have
significantly higher operating costs per seat.
In addition, because the jet would have to fly at a higher altitude, it could
be be impractical for flights within the United States, though it "could be
good for some routes in Asia," Leahy said.
The limited usefulness for U.S. flights would mean it could not replace
some existing jets in the Boeing 757/767 category, Leahy said.
"You've got a $10 billion to $12 billion investment and you've got to build
a business case...Personally I'd go to Mach 1.5 or something like that; I'd
go supersonic," Leahy said.
In response to Airbus's plans for the giant A380, a 550-seater, Boeing had
planned to develop a larger version of its 747 jumbo, tentatively called the
747X. But so far Airbus has won orders from a number of carriers, while
the 747X has not received any orders.
The A380 orders threaten to erode Boeing's dominance in the jumbo
aircraft market. Airbus has received orders from non-U.S. passenger
airlines, from a U.S. leasing company, and from package shipper FedEx
Corp., but from no U.S. passenger airlines.
Still, Leahy repeated his optimism that carriers like UAL Corp.'s United
Airlines and Northwest Airlines Corp. would likely choose to fly A380s.
The A380 has garnered close to 62 firm orders and 54 options, and
"several deals are right now close to closing," Leahy said.