September 21, 2011 / 4:51 PM / 8 years ago

Airbus sees "overwhelming" A350-1000 orders

By Tim Hepher

PARIS, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Airbus EAD.PA sales chief John Leahy said the European planemaker’s planned A350-1000 passenger jet would likely get an “overwhelming” order response within a year.

“We are delighted with the performance of the A350-1000 which will exceed the range and payload of the 777-300ER, with 25 percent less fuel,” Leahy told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Influential aircraft lessor Steven Udvar-Hazy had raised the pressure on Airbus on Tuesday, adding his voice to others questioning the design of the new 350-seat airplane.

Competition between the A350-1000 variant and Boeing’s (BA.N) 777-300ER or its successor is seen as the industry’s next big battle after a clash over the design of popular narrow-body jets.

Airbus has delayed the A350-1000, the largest of three variants of its next-generation widebody jet it aims to deliver from mid-decade, to accommodate a bigger Rolls-Royce (RR.L) engine.

Udvar-Hazy joined Gulf carriers in suggesting the changes were too modest, telling Air Transport Intelligence they would leave the plane short of the best combination of payload and range.

Boeing has booked strong 777 sales and said it was determined to maintain its leadership in a lucrative segment.

Executives have said they may revamp the 777 with new engines and an improved wing to give the mini-jumbo more clout. Other options include small and rapid changes to the design or a completely new aircraft.

Leahy said he expected Boeing to produce a lot of “paper airplanes” before settling on the re-engine option.

Airbus plans to deliver the A350-1000 from mid-2017.

“I predict by this time next year we will have an overwhelming order response,” Leahy said. So far, Airbus has sold 75 A350-1000 and Boeing has sold 533 777-300 ER.

It is not the first time Leahy and Udvar-Hazy, two of the aircraft industry most flamboyant figures, have sparred over strategy, even while negotiating deals.

Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Air Lease Corp (AL.N), and seen as the founder of the modern aircraft leasing industry, was credited with forcing Airbus to abandon one of several earlier designs for the A350.

However, he also clashed with manufacturers when predicting the global downturn would see a sharp drop in production, which failed to materialise.

(Editing by Christian Plumb and Dan Lalor)

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