Singapore Air Pressures Airbus On A350

April 9, 2006

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Singapore Airlines has become the second key customer to say that Airbus has not done enough to make its planned A350 plane competitive with Boeing's 787, according to a US newspaper report.

The chief executive of Singapore Airlines, which is in the midst of deciding which manufacturer will win a multi-billion dollar order, said he believes that Airbus should have countered Boeing's proposed new fuel-efficient plane with a new plane of its own, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

His comments are adding to increasing pressure on Airbus to return to the drawing board at a time when the manufacturer is already facing delays on its double-decker A380 and poor sales of its four-engine A340.

Chew Choon Seng, chief executive of Singapore Airlines, said in an interview in Zurich that he believes that "having gone to the trouble of designing a new wing, tail, cockpit" and adding advanced new materials, Airbus "should have gone the whole hog and designed a new fuselage."

Singapore Airlines expects in early May to announce a major order for widebody jets. Chew's comments carry great weight in the industry because Singapore is a prized customer for both manufacturers.

Airbus introduced the A350 in 2004 as its answer to Boeing's twin-aisle 787, which has sold out the first three years of production.

Unlike Boeing, which started from a clean sheet, Airbus chose to update its popular A330 widebody, which it thought at the time would be sufficient. Since then, under pressure from airlines, Airbus says it has changed 95 percent of the plane.

Airbus received the first public criticism of its A350 from a major customer late last month during an airline-finance conference in Orlando, Florida.

International Lease Finance Chairman and Chief Executive Steven Udvar-Hazy said Airbus was "at a crossroads" and would have to decide whether to spend billions or risk ceding leadership in the twin-aisle market to Boeing.

(Reuters)