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Airbus Accused of Gutless Models Hits Back at Boeing 787 Parts

An employee works on a section of a wing for an Airbus passenger aircraft at the company's factory in Broughton, U.K. Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg
An employee works on a section of a wing for an Airbus passenger aircraft at the company's factory in Broughton, U.K. Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Airbus SAS, a week after being accused by Boeing Co. of lacking the guts to develop an all-new airplane, hit back by ridiculing as inferior its arch-rival’s choice of parts on the first 787 Dreamliner shown to the world.

“The aircraft we rolled out a couple of weeks ago didn’t have rivets from Wal-Mart, like the ones our competitors had at the time off their roll-out,” Tom Enders, the chief executive officer of Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., told investors at the annual shareholders meeting today. “It’s a real aircraft.”

Boeing and Airbus, which share a duopoly in the market for large commercial jets, have been known to trade the occasional jibe about their products and strategy, accusing each other of making misleading claims about their planes’ performance. Airbus had struck a more supportive note during the three-month grounding of the Dreamliner, only to resume a more aggressive stance as the A350’s maiden flight approaches in coming weeks.

Enders’s comment was directed specifically at the plane that Boeing presented publicly on July 8, 2007, timed to coincide with the plane’s name -- 787. The first 787 to actually fly didn’t come until 1 1/2 years later. Paul Lewis, a spokesman for Boeing, said his company had no comment on Enders’s remarks, made at a gathering in Amsterdam today.

Humble Gathering

Airbus doesn’t “have an airframe that can compete” with the 777X, the upgraded version of Boeing’s biggest twin-engine plane, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said at an investor conference on May 22. “They don’t have the appetite to do a ground-up airplane, and they’d have to do a ground-up airplane.’

The A350 is Airbus’s response to the 787 Dreamliner and the popular 777, and the first painted aircraft emerged from a hangar this month, indicating the maiden flight is nearing. Fabrice Bregier, the Airbus head who succeeded Enders, kept the roll-out to a low-key event reserved only for employees, with outside spectators catching only a remote glimpse from a fence.

The humble ceremony compared with Boeing’s jubilant unveiling of the 787 Dreamliner in 2007, an event hosted by former television news anchor Tom Brokaw before 15,000 people and broadcast live by satellite. The Chicago-based manufacturer had then planned on making the plane available for commercial use within eight months, only to see the program get derailed by years of delays as it grappled with suppliers and materials.

While Airbus has continuously cautioned that the A350 program remains challenging, the company hasn’t disclosed a delay within a year. Enders and Bregier have said they want to make sure the plane is mature at every step of its development before moving to the next stage, a lesson they say they learned from Boeing and Airbus’s own delays on the A380 super jumbo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at aerothman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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