To Airbus's chief salesman John Leahy, the 7E7 looked like another in a long line of Boeing projects that would never see the light of day, after the failed Sonic Cruiser and false starts for 747 and 767 derivatives.

But it did not go away and, as the programme advanced, Leahy dismissed the twinjet as a reinvention of the A330-200, saying: "We'll take its super-efficient engines and hang them under the A330."

By late 2004 Airbus realised the game was up, and Leahy tried to "put a hole in Boeing's Christmas stocking" by unveiling the A330-derived A350. Twelve months later, it was Boeing that holed Airbus below the waterline when the 787 won a crucial competition at Qantas.

Airbus reinvented the A350 as an all-new design, finally launching the XWB in December 2006, by which time Boeing had a three-year lead and 450 orders.

Source: Flight International