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Monday, June 12, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing, Airbus Trade Barbs, Take Orders At Paris Show

PARIS, France - It is starting to look like the 1995 Paris Air Show may go down in aviation history as the start of an era of take-no-prisoners, open warfare between rival jet makers Boeing, Airbus and McDonnell Douglas.

Bad-mouthing a competitor's product is a time-honored tradition in the jet-selling game. But such sniping has rarely occurred outside of private sales meetings.

Until now.

With airlines and leasing companies poised to order billions of dollars of new jets over the next few years, the Big Three jet makers understandably are eager to validate the aircraft each brings to the table - so anxious that mudslinging has spilled into the public arena.

If the first three days of the industry's largest trade gathering is any indication, the vitriol is just warming up; publicly bashing a competitor's product offerings has now become an integral part of selling jets.

With a new 777 twinjet gleaming majestically on the tarmac at Le Bourget airport, Boeing threw down the gauntlet in archrival Airbus Industrie's backyard.

That effort was boosted today by reports out of Taipei that Taiwan's two biggest airlines are considering buying a total of 12 Boeing 777s worth about $1.5 billion. Reuters news service reported that China Airlines has signed a letter of intent to buy four 777s.

"We will evaluate in the next six months whether to actually buy them or not," China Airlines' spokeswoman Lu Sheng-fang said.

EVA Airways Corp., a subsidiary of Taiwan's shipping giant Evergreen Marine Corp., has signed a letter of intent to buy four Boeing 777s and reserved an option to purchase four more, a company statement said.

EVA plans to buy an as-yet-undeveloped type of Boeing 777 with the ability to transport passengers and cargo, often called a "combi." It said its order depended on Boeing developing the new airplane.

"We are thrilled they are considering the 777 as other Asian airlines have," said Jerry Hendin, Boeing spokesman, in Paris today.

Before an auditorium packed with aviation writers from around the world, Ron Woodard, Boeing Commercial Airplane group president, yesterday criticized Airbus' competing A330 and A340 models.

The Airbus jets, Woodard said, wouldn't fly as far or as fast as the full line of 777 jets Boeing has planned, including a stretched version, dubbed the 777-300X, as well as a shrunken-fuselage, ultra long-range 777, called the -100X. Boeing is aggressively trying to secure customers to launch both proposed derivatives.

The A330/A340s' other shortcomings, according to Woodard, include a cramped first-class section, comparatively high operating costs and a complicated cockpit.

In response to a claim made by Airbus earlier this year that the consortium of European aerospace companies intends to capture half the market by the turn of the century, Woodard boasted, "We average about 60 percent of the world's market share. . . . Although we are clearly the market leader . . . we intend to continue our strides to capture two-thirds of the market."

Firing back, Adam Brown, Airbus vice president of forecasting and strategic planning, belittled Boeing for following the consortium's lead in offering widebody twinjets and using fly-by-wire computer controls. The 777 is Boeing's first fly-by-wire model. Airbus has been using fly-by-wire controls in all its models since the mid 1980s.

Both Boeing and Airbus executives ignored McDonnell Douglas, the fast-fading Long Beach, Calif., jetmaker that would like to launch its 100-seat MD-95 jetliner. Earlier this year, McDonnell was close to landing SAS as a launch customer for the MD-95 - until Boeing snuck in with a last-minute offer for 55 737-600s the airline couldn't resist.

Boeing also announced yesterday orders for four new 737-800s worth $198 million: two going to Lauda Air and two to Eurobelgian Airlines. In addition, Woodard said Air Europa has signed a memorandum of understanding to order eight 737-800s. And United Parcel Service said today it has exercised options to order five additional Boeing 757 freighters worth $300 million.

Airbus today announced Air Canada has ordered 10 more A-319s.

An airline spokesman said the carrier is considering launching a long-range version of the A340 to use on nonstop flights between Toronto and Hong Kong.

Boeing hopes to beat Airbus to the ultra long-range market with its shrunken 777-100X, but has yet to mention any potential customers.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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