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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February, 2005, 11:45 GMT
Boeing unveils new 777 aircraft
Boeing 777-200LR
Boeing is pinning its hopes on smaller planes with longer ranges
US aircraft firm Boeing has unveiled its new long-distance 777 plane, as it tries to regain its position as the industry's leading manufacturer.

The 777-200LR will be capable of flying almost 11,000 miles non-stop, linking cities such as London and Sydney.

Boeing, in contrast to European rival Airbus, hopes airlines will want to fly smaller aircraft over longer distances.

Airbus, which overtook Boeing as the number one civilian planemaker in 2003, is focusing on so-called super jumbos.

Defining moment

Analysts are divided over which approach is best and say that this latest tussle between Boeing and Airbus may prove to be a defining moment for the airline industry.

Boeing plans to offer twin-engine planes that are able to fly direct to many of the world's airports, getting rid of the need for connecting flights.

Boeing 777-200LR

It is banking on smaller, slimmer planes such as the 777-200LR and its much-anticipated 787 Dreamliner plane, which is set to take to the skies in 2008.

The 777-200LR, which had its launch delayed by the 11 September attacks in the US, is the fifth variation of Boeing's twin-aisle 777 plane.

The company officially "rolled out" the new 777 in Seattle at 2200 GMT.

Better fuel efficiency from engines made by GE and lighter materials mean that the plane can connect almost any two cities worldwide.

'Niche player'

"Boeing has the latest variant in a very successful line of airplanes and there is no doubt it will continue to be very successful," said David Learmount, operations and safety editor at industry magazine Flight International.

But the 777-200LR "is a niche player", Mr Learmount continued, adding that reach was not the only criterion airlines used when picking their aircraft.

Mr Learmount pointed out that the 777-200LR has been marketed for a couple of years and achieved only limited success in attracting orders.

He also said that while the plane may be able to fly to Sydney from London in one hit, prevailing winds meant that it would have to stop somewhere on the return journey.

The bigger the better?

Airbus is now where Boeing was a few years ago
David Learmount, Flight International magazine

For Airbus, the future is big - it is pinning its hopes on planes that can carry as many as 840 people between large hub airports.

From there, passengers would be ferried to their final destinations by smaller planes.

Airbus is also keeping its options open and plans to compete in all the main categories of aircraft.

It has been producing a rival to Boeing's 777 line for more than a year.

"Airbus is now where Boeing was a few years ago" with its product range, said Flight International's Mr Learmount.

Taking orders

Both Boeing and Airbus have been taking orders for their new planes.

Boeing said it expected to sell about 500 of its 777-200LR planes over the next 20 years. It already has orders from Pakistan International Airlines and EVA of Taiwan.

These orders should help underpin the company's profits.

Boeing said earnings during the last three months of 2004 dropped by 84% because of costs relating to stopping production of its smallest airliner, the 717, and the cancellation of a US air force 767 tanker contract.

Net profit was $186m (98m; 143m euros) in the quarter, compared with $1.13bn in the same period in 2003.

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