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Thu, Mar 15, 2007

Airbus' Leahy Hints At Dreamliner Delays

Boeing Maintains 787 Will Deliver On Schedule

Airbus SAS Chief Operating Officer, lead salesman, and head cheerleader John Leahy wished archrival Boeing well this week, as the American planemaker counts down the days to when it unveils its 787 Dreamliner. But that doesn't mean he's changed sides -- or lessened his enthusiasm for Airbus.

On Monday, Leahy (right) told reporters he's heard rumors from suppliers indicating the 787 -- scheduled for first flight by the end of this year, with customer deliveries starting in 2008 -- could be up to six months late. But, he added, he'd prefer that not happen.

"In this particular case, misery doesn't love company," Leahy said, according to the Seattle Times. "We wish [Boeing] well, to get an airplane out the door on time."

Even the most casual observer of the ongoing Airbus vs. Boeing feud may find that statement odd, especially as Airbus deals with highly publicized troubles in getting its A380 superjumbo into customers' hands. The European planemaker's 787-fighter, the A350XWB, has also been through a costly redesign, and is not scheduled to enter service until 2013 at the earliest.

As ANN reported, those factors conspired to drive Airbus' profits into the negative column for 2006, dragging parent company EADS' fortunes down with it. In response, EADS put Airbus on a drastic diet -- cutting 10,000 jobs, and putting six plants on the auction block.

Leahy's show of support is similar to a football coach praising the opposing team, just before the Super Bowl. It's called the "psyche-out" -- and is often followed by some critique of problems the other team may encounter.

"Despite our extensive experience in delaying aircraft programs, we don't have any particular inside knowledge" about the 787 program, Leahy joked with reporters at this week's International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading. "But if you talk with suppliers, most people are talking about up to a six-month delay as a possibility."

Boeing has maintained that, despite production snags encountered by various suppliers, the 787 (shown above) remains on schedule. Boeing Chief Financial Officer James Bell reaffirmed last week the plane would be delivered on-time.

Leahy also tried to downplay fears the A350 XWB wouldn't be able to match the 787 in the marketplace.

"It's no more tentative a program than the 787 is," Leahy said. "I don't think there's an airline out there that thinks the A350 is in question."

To date, only one customer for the original A350, Finnair, as agreed to sign on the dotted line for the new plane. Leahy said he expects nearly all the A350's original customers to come around, though, noting Airbus has set aside money to offset the price difference between the old and new planes -- all-but-guaranteeing airlines will be able to purchase the XWB at their lower original prices.

If those customers agree to order the XWB, that would give Airbus about 100 orders for the A350 XWB; Boeing is nearing the 500-order mark for the 787.

Despite the present turmoil at Airbus, as well as a heart scare in November, Leahy says he remains committed to the manufacturer he has spent the last 22 years with.

"A lot depends on what the Mayo Clinic says," he replied. "Assuming my health is good, I have no immediate plans to go anywhere else."

FMI: www.airbus.com, www.boeing.com

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