Reports over the weekend suggest that Boeing is ready to strike back at Airbus with the launch of a new version of the long-serving Boeing 747 called the 747 ‘Advanced’. British Airways could become one of the first customers. News of Boeing’s plans will intensify the rivalry with Airbus, which is scheduled to stage the first flight of its new $13.5 billion A380 within the coming weeks. It will replace the 747 as the world’s largest passenger airliner.
The Boeing plans will add to the debate between Europe and America over subsidies to their respective aircraft makers. A serious breakdown in the talks last week between Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, and Robert Zoellick, his US counterpart, mean the issue may now have to be resolved by lengthy litigation through the World Trade Organisation.
Boeing have considered newer versions of the 747 for some time but there has been little interest from airlines. Airbus have stepped into the gap and created the A380. The impact of this new plane has left Boeing with few new orders for the 747. The new aircraft would use new engines from Rolls-Royce and GE that were developed for another new Boeing product, the mid-sized 787. The 747 Advanced would have greater range, modified wings and carry 30 more passengers—450 rather than 420—than the existing 747. The rival A380 will carry about 550.
A source was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying, “We see the aircraft as filling a gap between the 777 (Boeing’s next-smallest aircraft that carries up to 380 people) and the A380. There are airlines that would love a more efficient aircraft, but cannot justify all the seats of the A380, or the price.”