| Marathon MACHINE: The Boeing 777-200LR. (AP)
London, Feb.16: A month after Europe unveiled the world's biggest airliner, America yesterday came up with one that could fly the farthest.
The roll-out in Seattle of the Boeing 777-200LR (for 'long range') was portrayed as the joining of a mighty aerospace battle, pitting size against staying power, with the ultimate spoils being billions in orders from the world's airlines.
While many industry insiders dismiss such a notion, describing the new Boeing as merely a 'niche plane' aimed at a limited market, the spectacle of two new and so different airliners appearing hard on each other's heels has inevitably led to questions over the way passengers in the future would most like to travel.
On one hand, there is the Airbus behemoth, the A380 with its twin decks, 261ft wingspan and, theoretically, the ability to seat 740 economy passengers, even though, it will 'only' accommodate between 500 and 550 in three classes when it enters service next year.
It might not be the fastest aircraft in the world or have the longest range (but still a respectable 8,000 nautical miles) but it will get you to Australia with only a stop or two. And, if Sir Richard Branson's dreams are realised, you will be able to while away the time in the bar, gym or casino. The aircraft is so wide and heavy that many airports will not be able to accommodate it. However, it will not be going to that many airports: just the main hubs.
By contrast, the Boeing 777-200LR, with a range of about 9,400 nautical miles, will be capable of connecting 'virtually any two cities in the world, non-stop'. You could fly non-stop from London to Sydney but not, unfortunately, the other way round because of prevailing head winds.
Carrying about 300 passengers, the new offering from Boeing ' a company still smarting after being overtaken by Airbus last year as the world's leading supplier of airliners ' will be more expensive to operate and, hence, cost more to fly than the giant Airbus. But it will get passengers there and back quicker, which has obvious appeal to business travellers who do not mind spending up to 20 hours in the air to save an hour or two.
According to Max Kingsley-Jones commercial aviation editor of Flight International, the battle for orders is not between the new Boeing and the Airbus 380 ' launched last month ' but between the American aircraft and the Europeans' A340-500, which entered service just over a year ago.
'The new Boeing is merely a derivative of the Boeing 777 that many of us have flown across the Atlantic,' said Kingsley-Jones. 'They have taken that plane, taken out some of the fuselage and increased the size of the wings and the engines to get another 1,000 miles or so out it.
'They have gained range by losing payload ' normally, you do it the other way round. It means it has high operating costs and, I would expect, only a niche market to be filled.'