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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airbus Moves Ahead With A3XX Superjumbo

PARIS -- Airbus Industrie announced Friday the launch of the long-awaited A3XX double-decker jumbo jet that can carry 555 people, creating a classy and powerful new competitor to Boeing's long-haul aircraft.

Airbus is betting that in increasingly crowded skies, airlines will want to be able to pack as many people as possible in their planes and that customers will be attracted by the extra space and comfort available on a flying "cruiser" f a bet dismissed by a Boeing spokesman in Seattle as contrary to the U.S. company's market research.

The four-nation European consortium will also be converted into a corporation f Airbus Integrated Company f in a long-expected move that its backers hope will help it compete more effectively with Boeing and crack its monopoly on long-haul jets.

The Airbus decision to go ahead with the $12 billion project to build the world's largest plane promises to intensify competition between the two rivals with their opposing strategies for the future.

Boeing has decided to modernize its trustworthy 747 family of planes rather than build its own mammoth jet.

A decision on whether to proceed with a stretch version of the 747 at an estimated cost of $3 billion to $4 billion will depend on interest from the airlines and airplane leasing companies that would buy the planes, said John Dern, a Boeing spokesman.

Airbus's announcement Friday was clearly the opening salvo in what promises to be a fierce battle for clients.

"There will be a tremendous competition, a fair-play match between Boeing and Airbus," Jean-Luc Lagardere, co-CEO of the new company, said at a news conference in Paris.

"It will not be a war," he added, but an "imaginative contest."

The new European company will be 80 percent-owned by the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Company, or EADS, which was formed last year from the merger of France's Aerospatiale Matra, Germany's DaimlerChrysler Aerospace and Spain's Casa.

British Aerospace Systems, the fourth partner in Airbus Industrie, will hold the remaining 20 percent and has an option to sell this stake to EADS after three years.

EADS said it believes there will be demand for 1,500 A3XX over the next two decades, and it intends to capture half that market. It said eight leading customers have already expressed interest acquiring 52 planes in the A3XX family.

The European aerospace giant said the authorization to offer the superjumbo is expected to "lead to a full industrial launch of the program at the turn of the year." The first planes are slated for delivery by 2005.

"This is an historic day for Airbus," Philippe Camus, co-CEO of EADS, said in a statement.

"Our landmark agreement and the authorization to offer for the A3XX are tremendous news for the European aerospace industry and testimony to the faith and commitment of those who founded Airbus Industrie so many years ago," he added.

But Boeing's Dern said Airbus still has a long way to go "before they begin cutting metal."

"It's just one step in the process. This is something that has been expected for some time," he said. "Now they've got to get customers to stand up and say they're interested in buying this airplane."

Boeing estimates the market for an A3XX-size plane is much smaller, about 360 aircraft, because, "most passengers, whenever possible, want to avoid congested hubs and want more point-to-point service" that can be handled with existing jetliners, Dern said.

The European superjumbo project had been held up by internal squabbling about where the A3XX would be assembled, with France and Germany vying for the prestige of assembling the giant plane.

That has now been resolved. Physical assembly will take place at Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse, France while interior furnishing and customization will be carried out in Hamburg, Germany.

The conversion of Airbus, which was founded in 1972, into a corporation is expected to generate savings of 350 million euros ($329 million) by 2004. The new company is expected to have a consolidated annual turnover of 15.7 billion euros ($14.8 billion).

The main deck of the A3XX will be the widest in the world, with a floor area 43 percent greater than the largest existing plane. Each seat has its own armrest, and a lower deck can accommodate sleeper cabins, a business center with a bar and library, and even a nursery. The plane will have a range of 15,100 kilometers.

Last year, Airbus surpassed Boeing in commercial airline orders with 476 to the American company's 391.