Singapore chooses Airbus superjumbos

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Friday, September 29, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

By BRYAN CORLISS

Herald Writer

Boeing officials said Friday they’re still committed to building a new generation of superjumbo jets, but analysts said a leading airline’s decision to go with a rival Airbus plane will mean delays in getting the new 747X off the ground.

"It’s hard to say that it’s not bad news, certainly in terms of the 747X," said Cai von Rumohr with SG Cowen Securities in Boston. "If they’re going to launch it, they’re going to have to have somebody order it."

Singapore Airlines on Friday announced an $8.6 billion order for 10 Airbus A3XX superjumbos, with options for 15 more.

Late Friday, Boeing announced it had posted $5.7 billion of its own orders for 76 new jets, although company officials refused to identify the customers for the 59 737s, and 16 777s.

Boeing had tried unsuccessfully to convince Singapore to buy its 747X Stretch — an updated 516-passenger derivative of its venerable jumbo jet, built in Everett.

Boeing has three 747X models in development, but has yet to commit to building any, while it continues to look for buyers.

Friday’s decision was widely seen as a big win for Airbus, which conceived the A3XX as a competitor to Boeing’s dominance in the large aircraft market and is now trying to land enough orders to justify building the new, 550-passenger plane.

The double-decked A3XX would be the world’s largest passenger plane. Singapore Airlines in particular is viewed as a bellwether, in that it’s one of Asia’s most-profitable air carriers.

"Singapore Airlines is a trendsetter in new aircraft technologies," Howard Wheeldon, an analyst at Prudential Securities Ltd. in London, told Bloomberg News. "Where it goes, others follow."

Airlines now have committed to buying 32 of the Airbus planes. The consortium is believed to be waiting until it has about 50 firm orders before it commits to building the A3XX.

A spokesman for Boeing’s 747 program in Everett didn’t return a phone call Friday. But the company, in a statement published on its Web site, vowed it would continue development of the new 747X series.

"We are very confident in the viability of the 747X family in the long-term," the statement said. "It’s a tremendous family that offers superior economics and value."

Singapore Airlines continues to be an important Boeing customer, the company noted. Boeing just delivered its ninth 747-400F freighter to the airline this week. It operates a total of 47 747s and 18 777s.

That’s not going to change soon, von Rumohr said. In fact, he said he expects the airline will soon announce an order for additional extended-range 777s.

The Airbus announcement "wasn’t particularly unexpected," von Rumohr said. Singapore had been signaling its enthusiasm for the new jet for some time, and may have been using the possibility of a Boeing buy to cut a better deal.

The A3XX has a list price of $230 million, but key launch customers such as Singapore Airlines usually get discounts of 20 to 30 percent, according to analysts.

But while Friday’s announcement clearly gives Airbus the lead in the competition for the superjumbo market, it’s not really clear how much demand there will be for planes that large, von Rumohr said.

Boeing itself foresees a market for only 87 superjumbo planes — either the A3XX or 747X series — over the next 10 years, Reuters reported.

"I don’t think this order today defines the long term," said Dain Raushcer Wessels analyst Robert Toomey in Seattle. "This single event doesn’t define the rest of the market for all eternity. It doesn’t mean the end of the 747."

Boeing stock closed down $1.75 a share Friday, at $62.75.

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