Boeing says that it could respond to any threat from the A350 XWB family with an "overwhelmingly superior" new airliner to replace the 777 before the end of the next decade.
Airbus marketeers believe that they have their rival on the ropes following the sales success of the A350 amid the Boeing 787's difficulties and the lack of clarity over a succession or development plan for the 777.
"The market has really taken to the XWB because we have a real family approach, with three variants all fully launched and fully ordered by customers," says Airbus vice-president marketing Andrew Shankland.
The initial A350-900 is due to enter service in 2013, with the smaller -800 and larger -1000 following one and two years after, respectively. The twinjet has been designed as a single family to tackle the market that Boeing competes in with the 777 and 787. And Shankland points out that while in 2004 Boeing was offering three or potentially four 787 models, there are now just two firmly defined variants - the -8 and -9 stretch.
Alan Pardoe, A330/A340/A350 product marketing director, adds that the 787-8 is also under attack from the A330-200. "We've improved the -200's range and our competitor has diminished the range of its product [in early production aircraft], so one perceived advantage of the 787 has simply gone away," he says.
However, Kostya Zolotusky, managing director of capital markets development at Boeing, says the airframer is "very comfortable" with its product development strategy. "We don't know exactly what the A350 will be yet, but we see it being an 'A340NG' [next generation]," he says, doubting that the new Airbus can offer any "leap-frog technology".
He says that "in the best case scenario [for the A350]", Boeing could "come to market within three to four years with a 777-replacement aircraft that is overwhelmingly superior to the A350".
Speaking in London after a Boeing financier briefing, Zolotusky said that should an all-new replacement not be needed, then "there are a lot of things we can do with the current 777, like a new wing, engines and so on" to be competitive with the XWB.
While the status of the 787-10 "is unclear, Zolotusky says that the development of a Dreamliner variant larger than the -9 remains a longer-term possibility. "We need the 787 flying to understand what we can do with the airframe. Once it's flying we'll know how much we can stretch it."