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UNVEILED: Airbus has bet its future on the mammoth double-decker A380, the world's largest passenger plane

Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher spent last Christmas at his St. Petersburg, Florida, home. He wasn't happy about that. Angered because carriers like AirAsia and Air Berlin were buying rival Airbus planes, all too aware that the European manufacturer would soon be rolling out its 555-seat, double-decker A380 jumbo liner — and was also developing a smaller plane, the A350, to compete with his new baby, the Boeing 737 — Stonecipher had told his salespeople he would travel anywhere in the world, even on Christmas Day, if he was needed to close a deal.

No one called. "That troubled...