• The Associated Press

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A senior Boeing Co. official on Wednesday brushed off the threat of European rival Airbus SAS’s “superjumbo,” saying orders for Boeing’s smaller, more fuel-efficient Dreamliner were robust.

Boeing Vice President R. Wade Cornelius said the Airbus A380 requires heavy investment but will likely command only a small market.

“We are very happy that Airbus has chosen to develop that airplane for that market,” he said while in Tokyo to attend a conference.

Chicago-based Boeing and Airbus, fierce rivals in the commercial jet market, offer very different products.

Boeing is building the 787 Dreamliner, which carries between 223 and 296 passengers, while Airbus is selling the much larger A380 superjumbo, which seats a maximum 840 passengers.

The A380, which made its first test flight Wednesday in France, has won 154 firm orders from 15 carriers.

Cornelius, who oversees global strategy for commercial airplanes, said that including recent deals with Air Canada and Air India, orders for the 787 now total 237.

Boeing is talking with other customers about possible orders for 429 more planes, which makes the 787 a sellout for the first three years of delivery, he said at the firm’s Tokyo headquarters.

The Boeing 787 goes into production next year with delivery in 2008.

Although Boeing has enjoyed decades of success with Japanese airlines — partly because manufacturers here have worked for years with Boeing to develop and make aircraft — Airbus has recently begun a major campaign to win orders in Japan, counting on the A380 to boost sales.

There have been no orders so far for the A380 from major Japanese carriers, but Boeing does not offer a product that directly competes in that category. Boeing’s response to the A380 has been to offer an improved 747 with a longer body that seats 450 people, Cornelius said.

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