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Aviation

Airbus opens new Toulouse plant for high-tech A350

European plane maker Airbus has opened a new assembly plant in Toulouse, France. It will produce long-range A350 jets made of lightweight materials to save carriers fuel costs and challenge a rival Boeing airliner.

Europe's flagship plane maker Airbus on Tuesday inaugurated a new production facility in Toulouse, France, which is designed to assemble the company's new A350 jetliner.

The plane is meant to be the continent's first major contribution to a new generation of aircraft scheduled to drastically decrease fuel consumption by using high-tech materials. The A350s will be made of carbon-composite elements instead of the much heavier aluminum.

The plane is a direct response to rival Boeing's 787 Dreamliner which is already in the skies. Airbus said its A350 will take off in 2013 and enter service a year later.

Three different models of the A350 aircraft will seat between 270 and 350 people.

High initial costs

Analysts said the market for low-fuel planes was worth several hundreds of billions of euros. But in an initial phase, both Airbus and Boeing look unlikely to pocket big profits as they face huge construction challenges with the lightweight materials in question much costlier to produce.

The Toulouse plant will start the production cycle immediately and aims to assemble 10 planes a month by 2018.

Airbus hopes it will not be too late to play a major role in intensifying competition with Boeing for jet sales in Asia and other fast-growing markets.

Airbus is still embroiled in legal disputes with the US and Germany over the funding of the A350. Washington has accused the European plane maker of receiving what it called "illegal" development loans from European governments, while Germany has withheld part of its share of the loans in an ongoing spat over jobs.

hg/ipj (Reuters, dpa)