Plane war pits Boeing’s new Dreamliner vs. Airbus A350

In the airliner wars, Boeing fought back Tuesday with plans for a larger version of the Dreamliner, just four days after its competition, the Airbus A350, grabbed the headlines by taking to the skies for the first time.

The trans-Atlantic battle between the world’s biggest airplane makers ratcheted up a notch at the Paris Air Show where cost-conscious airlines are shopping for wide-body planes that can carry more passengers and save money at a time of restrictive fuel costs.

Strictly by the numbers, the European airliner comes out ahead, able to carry more passengers further. But it costs more, too.

Quiet vs. fuel efficiency
The new Dreamliner, the 787-10, will seat 210-250 passengers and has a flying range from 7,650-8,200 nautical miles, according to Boeing. Boeing says it will start construction on the bigger jet in 2017.

By comparison, the A350 can fly up to 10,300 miles and carry 250-400 passengers. But the European-built planes also costs about $254-$332 million each, compared with $206-$243 million for the American aircraft.

Then there are the intangibles — the A350 is quieter, says Airbus, but Boeing says the Dreamliner is more fuel efficient.

Image: Boeing 787-10

Boeing unveiled its plans Tuesday to build the 787-10, a third member of the 787 family. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017.

The annual air show in Paris has been dominated by talk of the Airbus A350, which had its maiden flight last Friday and is a direct competitor to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner range launched in 2009, but which faced a temporary grounding earlier this year due to faulty batteries.

With the Dreamliner back in the air, the U.S. company launched its latest model along with commitments for 102 of the aircraft already. Jim McNerny, Boeing’s CEO, told CNBC on Monday that Dreamliner problems had not affected orders.

“The interesting thing is that the battery incident has not impacted guidance at all, and won’t impact our delivery system because we kept producing as we went through the fix,” he said.

Each plane maker has tried to outsell the other by highlighting other improvements. Boeing says its Big Brother Dreamliner will be more fuel efficient. Airbus says the A350 is quieter.

Airbus’s ebullient New York-born sales chief, John Leahy, lost no time in talking up the plane’s benefits moments after the A350 took off last Friday.

“Did you hear how quiet it was? We are going to set new standards … People round airports won’t even know we are taking off,” he told reporters.

Boeing stressed its new plane’s fuel-efficiency. “The 787-10 is 25 percent more efficient than airplanes of its size today and more than 10 percent better than anything being offered by the competition for the future,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner said.

(Read More: Wide Body Planes Soar at Paris Air Show)

The new Airbus A350 lands at Toulouse-Blagnac airport after its maiden flight in southwestern France last week.

The new Airbus A350 lands at Toulouse-Blagnac airport after its maiden flight in southwestern France last week. JEAN-PHILIPPE ARLES

‘Successful investments’
The A350 made its initial flight on Friday in Toulouse, France, and is expected to make an appearance this week at the Air Show. Officially, though, Airbus says it has no plans to fly the plane in Paris.

“I think the air show is going to see a lot of competitive jockeying, with both Boeing and Airbus claiming that they have the better product lineup,” said Carter Copeland, an aviation analyst with Barclays. “I think they can actually come out with both products as successful investments.”

On Monday, Airbus’s large A380, which has struggled since its launch, was purchased by Doric Lease Corp, with the firm ordering 20 aircraft with delivery to take place between 2016 and 2021. Monday also saw Lufthansa and International Lease Finance Corp. place a combined order for 150 of the Airbus A320NEOs.