Airbus suffers another setback

EVERETT – Slice it anyway you want, Airbus’s latest delay on its superjumbo A380 is Boeing’s gain, analysts say.

On Thursday, the parent company of Airbus announced another unspecified delay in the delivery of its flagship A380 superjumbo. The setback prompted Emirates, the biggest A380 airline customer, to say its 45-plane order was now “up in the air.”

And as Airbus announced its bad news, Boeing posted new orders worth up to $5.4 billion, including 16 orders from an unidentified buyer for the new 787 Dreamliner, which will be built in Everett. The company also took 31 orders for its 737.

The glum news for the Toulouse, France-based plane-maker could translate into even more orders for rival Boeing.

Airbus’ inability to meet deadlines on the A380 could spill over and affect its other lines, said Scott Hamilton, an industry analyst with Leeham Co.

“Airbus now has a real credibility issue,” he said. “People start to wonder: Can they build an airplane on time? Can they get it right?”

European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which owns 80 percent of Airbus, said in a statement that it expects the 555-seater jet program to fall even further behind schedule than the one-year delay already announced.

The company, however, did not offer a new timetable or cost estimate. The European defense group’s shares fell 2.2 percent to 22.30 euros in Paris.

Mike Turner, chief executive of Britain’s BAE Systems PLC and a member of the Airbus board, said last week that additional A380 delays were likely. BAE plans to sell its 20 percent stake in Airbus to EADS.

In June, Airbus blamed wiring problems when it announced a second six-month delay to the A380 program. The revelation caused EADS shares to plummet more than 25 percent in one day and triggered a management crisis leading to the ouster of EADS Chief Executive Noel Forgeard and Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert.

EADS, which is carrying out an audit of A380 manufacturing at Airbus, said Thursday it had encountered “continuing industrialization challenges with the wiring of production aircraft” that are expected to lead to unspecified “further delays.”

The latest delay on the A380 means Airbus no longer has much advantage over Boeing’s new 747-8 in terms of when it will be ready to fly, Hamilton said. With only 55 fewer seats than the A380, Boeing’s 747-8 could be an attractive option, as it also costs less than the A380.

“It certainly could mean that Boeing could see more orders for the 747-8,” Hamilton said.

Industry analyst Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group agreed. Aboulafia also said that customers could change course and look at mid-market planes such as Airbus’ A330 or Boeing’s 777.

At least two airlines out of the 14 with orders for the A380 said the delay could trigger cancellations. Airbus has accepted 134 orders for the world’s biggest passenger jet and another 25 for its freighter version.

Of Emirates’ order, worth more than $13 billion at list price, airline spokeswoman Valerie Tan said: “Things are up in the air right now. It’s hard for us to say.”

In a separate Emirates statement issued later, Chairman Tim Clark said the airline “has taken no position with regard to cancellation” or a possible compensation claim.

A Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Spokeswoman said the delay could affect the airline’s order for six A380s, with a catalog value of $1.75 billion.

A spokesman for Germany’s Lufthansa AG took a different opinion on Thursday saying the company still expects Airbus to deliver its 15 superjumbos on time, despite news of another production delay.

“We still assume that we will receive and operate our first A380 in the summer of 2008, so the situation hasn’t changed for us,” airline spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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