Airbus, trailing Boeing in new orders this year for the first time since 2000, plans to make its newest offering to airlines lighter and...

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Airbus, trailing Boeing in new orders this year for the first time since 2000, plans to make its newest offering to airlines lighter and more fuel efficient to win sales in the market for planes with 250 to 300 seats.

The Toulouse, France-based company’s A350 will have wings and a rear fuselage made of lighter-weight materials as well as the same fuel-efficient engines as in the competitive offering from Boeing, the 787, Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy said Wednesday in an interview.

“This is the fourth attempt by Airbus at a competitive response to the 787,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president at the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based consulting company. “The fourth time could be the charm, but it’s tough because Boeing’s 787 is all-new and extremely ambitious technologically.”

Boeing has won every contest between the 787 and A350 since January, snagging buyers including traditional Airbus customers Northwest Airlines and Air Canada. Boeing has 261 orders and commitment from 21 customers for the 787, while Airbus has one order for 10 A350s.

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Airbus got clearance from its parent, European Aeronautic Defence & Space (EADS), in December to market a 250-seat plane based largely on the existing A330-200, with development costs of about $4.9 billion, double the initial estimate. The latest modified proposal has the same estimated development costs, and Airbus is seeking loans from the U.K., France, Germany and Spain for a third of the expense.

“I suspect it will cost more,” said Doug McVitie, managing director of Arran Aerospace, a Scottish consulting company. “If you’re introducing new technology like a higher percentage of composites, you have to be facing uncertainty, and uncertainty has an uncertain price.”

The planemakers see demand for as many as 3,500 planes worth $400 billion in the 250- to 300-seat category over 20 years.

Airbus’ first answer to the 787, which Boeing proposed to airlines in December 2003, was to adapt the A330-200 to use the same efficient new engines designed for the 787. By mid-2004, Airbus was promising new systems and more composites. By December, the plane included new engines, systems and 35 percent new materials.

The fourth incarnation brings the promise of 60 percent advanced materials: 37 percent composites and 23 percent new aluminum lithium alloys. The rear fuselage and wing would be made from composites, and new cabin comforts would include bigger windows and special interior lighting to match Boeing developments.

The A350 is no longer a derivative, Leahy said. It’s a new jet with 90 percent new manufacturer parts, though the fuselage diameter is unchanged. He expects EADS to approve building the plane by the middle of June.