Boeing Launches First Salvo in Air Show Dogfight

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Boeing on Monday fired the first salvo in an air-show battle with Europe's Airbus to gain control of the millennium skies f landing a $1.02 billion deal with Japan's second largest airline operator.

But Airbus was expected to offer a swift riposte at Britain's Farnborough air show with an order due from Dubai's Emirates airline for its new superjumbo jet, the A3XX.

However, it was world leader Boeing Co. that was first off the blocks.

All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. said it had decided to order six Boeing 777-300X jets, a revolutionary aircraft that offers the greatest ever range, powered by just two gigantic engines.

This will help Boeing to close the gap after Airbus built up a sales lead with its long-range rivals, the four-engined A340-500 and -600 models. For the stakes are huge in the multi-billion dollar business.

But with passenger numbers soaring and airport landing space at a premium, Airbus is convinced its 555-plus seater A3XX f set to be the largest civil aircraft ever built f will be the plane of the future.

Boeing, market leader for 30 years, is set to counter-attack with its 747X stretched version of the original jumbo f and argue forcefully that the Europeans are unfairly subsidizing Airbus.

Farnborough, which attracts more than 300,000 visitors and alternates with Paris to stage the world's biggest industry air show, is traditionally the perfect market place for announcing new orders with much fanfare.

In the battle for civil aviation supremacy, Airbus outsold Boeing in 1999, but this year the U.S. giant is well ahead with 322 sales to 239 for Airbus.

Both actively play the numbers game with each new contract trumpeted to the industry at Farnborough.

Competition is fierce in the regional jet market with Canada's Bombardier putting one over its arch rival, Brazil's Embraer, by signing a huge new 104-plane Delta AirLines order worth $2.2 billion, and saying it would announce other orders at the show for another 50 aircraft worth $1.0 billion.

Meanwhile, industry consolidation is the big buzzword on the military front f particularly, if Europe is to compete effectively with the United States.

The end of the Cold War has shrunk defense budgets and the Kosovo conflict underlined to NATO's European partners that inter-operability is vital in battle.

The Europeans need to work much more closely on defense exports and sharing technology secrets. So Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden plan Thursday to sign a groundbreaking new agreement on coordinating regulations.

Two giant strides in consolidation have already been taken by the Europeans, and Farnborough will be a crucial maiden voyage for two new-look ventures f the new European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. and BAE Systems PLC, formed from British Aerospace and the Marconi Electronic Systems unit of the then General Electric Co. PLC, now Marconi PLC.