A New Jet Takes Off

(CBS/John Filo)
Nancy Cordes is the Transportation and Consumer Safety Correspondent for CBS News.
There are two major competitors in the high-flying world of manufacturing airliners: Boeing, an American company, and Airbus, its European rival. It's a constant battle for top dog status, and it looks like Boeing has won the latest round.

Both aircraft makers are introducing next generation jets, but the offerings couldn't be more different:

Boeing's 787, also called the "Dreamliner," is a medium widebody that seats 223 people. The Airbus A380 "Superjumbo" is the largest airliner ever built – a double decker plane that can seat 555 with room to spare.

The first 787 rolls off the factory floor in Everett, Washington next month (on 7/8/07 – get it?), on time and under budget. The A380 is a budget buster that has been plagued by production delays.

The 787 is selling like gangbusters, thanks to a state of the art exterior made from carbon composite rather than metal. It's lighter, which enables the plane to use 20% less fuel that similar sized aircraft. In an age of high fuel prices, that's a big bonus, and 600 Dreamliners have already been ordered by 45 different airlines worldwide. It's the fasted selling airliner ever. There are only 159 orders for the Airbus A380, and there have been some cancellations.

"Why Airbus built the A380 will be the topic of business school studies for years to come," airline industry expert Peter Goelz told me. "If it's not successful, it's going to bring Airbus to it's financial knees." Goelz says Airbus fundamentally misjudged the market, designing a long haul aircraft --ideal for, say, a New York to Asia flight -- when most of the growth is in medium haul routes such as Denver to Boston. That's exactly the market the 787 is tapping into with such apparent success.

At the Paris Air Show, which got underway today, Airbus downplayed the A380 and instead touted its planned redesign of the popular A350, which is a medium widebody just like – you guessed it – the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And the battle wages on.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.