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Two views of air travel

Two views of air travel

Paris, France-What is the best solution to tomorrow's surging air travel needs? Attendees at this summer's Paris Air Show got two sharply-contrasting arguments as executives from the world's top jetliner companies Boeing and Airbus touted their latest products.

Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Boeing executives predicted a potential demand for 2,100 new regional jets like its freshly minted 717-200. Boeing will deliver the first of these 100-120 seat planes this fall.

Alan Mulally, president of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, says small and medium-sized planes answer the consumer's need to travel from point to point, rather than take larger planes that often dictate a transfer at hub cities to a final destination.

In contrast, Airbus forecasts a much bigger demand than does Boeing over the next two decades for very large commercial jets. During that period, the European aircraft consortium believes that planes carrying more than 400 passengers will make up 25% of new business. And the company plans to answer such demand with the biggest jetliner ever -- its 600-plus seat A3XX, which is scheduled to enter service in 2005.

The argument for building such a behemoth: It will boost airline productivity and moderate increases in air fares. The huge twin-aisle, twin-deck jetliner will also enhance passenger comfort, especially important on long trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights.

While only time will tell the precise mix of the world's jet fleet over the next two decades, both Boeing and Airbus are answering real needs in the marketplace.

Frequent flyers, who often must travel on cramped, noisy props, will welcome the fast, comfortable 717. With a wing span of 93.3 feet and an overall length of 124 feet, the plane is similar in size and configuration to the DC-9 Series 30. Boeing claims the new model will be the quietest airplane in its class. Amenities include wider seats, larger windows, and spacious overhead stowbins.

As for airline operators, Boeing believes they'll be attracted to a plane that can fly efficiently on short routes of 300 to 800 miles, turn around quickly at airport gates, and make eight to ten flights a day. And with optional forward and ventral air stairs, cargo loading that requires no ground support equipment, and the ability to refuel without lifts or ladders, the 717 will expand the number of airports that can handle 100-passenger jet service.

Overseas travellers, on the other hand, will get a more pleasant flying experience with the Airbus A3XX, which will provide more room even in economy class than any previous aircraft. Airbus also estimates that the plane will reduce operating costs by at least 15% versus the Boeing 747 without requiring any substantial changes in airport infrastructure. In addition, the plane will be quieter than today's largest jets and burn less fuel per passenger, according to Airbus.

Among the new technologies being investigated for the huge jetliner are higher-pressure hydraulics and introduction of a variable frequency electric power system.

Though at the opposite ends of the size spectrum, both these jets will help airlines and airports cope with the congestion that plagues air travel today. And with forecasts for a tripling in air traffic over the next 20 years, such new technology is sorely needed.

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