AIRSHOW-New Boeing commercial chief plays down Airbus threat

Sun Jul 8, 2012 3:17pm EDT

* Boeing sees 'decent show' in terms of Farnborough orders

* No drastic changes in strategy planned

By Karen Jacobs

FARNBOROUGH, England, July 8 (Reuters) - Boeing Co's new commercial planes chief on Sunday played down plans by rival Airbus to open its first U.S. assembly line for single-aisle planes, saying airline customers cared less about where planes are built than about the value they offer.

"You win with the best products, the best value, the best relationships," Ray Conner told a media briefing in London a day before the official start of the Farnborough Airshow.

Airbus, a unit of EADS, last week said it would build an assembly line in Mobile, Alabama, that would produce its A320 family planes. The European company said it was making the move to position itself to win more business from American carriers as they replace aging aircraft.

If airlines made purchase decisions based on where planes were made, Conner said, Boeing would have 100 percent market share in the United States instead of 80 percent.

"If Airbus can bring a better value proposition to the game, then the U.S. airlines will take that into account," Conner added.

Conner, who was named to succeed Jim Albaugh as head of the commercial planes unit late last month, said competition was no more fierce today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Boeing is battling Airbus for the $100 billion-a-year aircraft market.

Conner, 57, joined Boeing in 1977 and worked his way up to become head of sales. Albaugh, 62, who came to prominence at Boeing's defense operations, is to retire on Oct. 1 after 37 years with the company.

Though Albaugh's retirement came as a surprise, Conner said his predecessor had accomplished what he had set out to do as head of commercial planes, including obtaining certification for the 787 Dreamliner plane after years of delays and setbacks with that program.

Conner said Boeing was expecting "a decent show" in terms of orders at Farnborough. At last year's Paris Air Show, Airbus took the spotlight with hundreds of orders for its upcoming A320neo aircraft that will be equipped with more fuel-efficient engines. Boeing later announced it would launch the 737 MAX, which will also have upgraded engines.

Conner said there would be no drastic changes in strategy at the Boeing commercial segment under his tenure. He also said there was no timetable in place in terms of decisions about the company's widebody aircraft strategy.

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