Home' Asian Aviation : AAV September 2011 Contents AndrzejJeziorski
So we finally know the answer. For months now, it appeared
that Boeing was unable to commit itself to a concrete strateg y
on the f uture of its single-aisle product, while Airbus racked
up more than 1,200 orders for its re-engined A320neo in the
nine months since the programme’s launch.
At the end of Aug ust, Boeing scored a double-whammy
of major announcements. First came the US and European
certification of its revolutionary new 787 twin-aisle twinjet,
which promises operators unprecedented operational
efficiency through the use of cutting-edge technology.
Then, just days later, the company unveiled its re-engined
737 MAX family, launching the programme on the back of
496 order commitments from five, still-unidentified airline
Boeing ’s alternative option was to commit to an all-new,
clean-sheet design that
would have lagged five
or more years behind
the 2016 in-ser vice
target of the A320neo.
For the price of that
delay, Boeing would
have potentially been
able to offer far more dramatic improvements in performance,
efficiency and economics, but the risk would have be en greater.
The US manufacturer and its European rival both have
recent, bitter experience of the difficulties of bringing
an all-new aircraft to market with a raft of radical new
technologies. The 787 has experienced no less than seven
delays for a slew of different reasons, while Airbus had its
own share of troubles with getting production of its A380
– the world’s largest jetliner – under way.
If an all-new aircraft were dependent on a radical new
technology to offer the promised performance benefits – for
instance, if it was supposed to be powered by unducted fan
engines – then the risk of delay, or even of failure to meet
performance promises, would be high.
Weighed ag ainst the risks represented by such radical
new technology, a 15 percent fuel-burn saving in an aircraft
such as the A320neo – which, according to Airbus, has 95
percent airframe commonality with current A320-family
jetliners – may seem far more appealing to airlines than an
a ll-new product that is far less likely to meet its promised
Up until fairly recently, Boeing was scoffing at the idea of
offering a re-engined version of its 737 line, insisting that its
customers were not seeking such a solution. The company
seemed to be sticking to this line for some time after the
launch of the A320neo, even as Airbus raked in more and
more orders, culminating in 667 commitments g athered
during June’s Paris Air Show.
In 2010, Airbus’s top salesman John Leahy predicted that if
a re-engined A320 were launched late in 2010, Boeing would
immediately respond with an all-new design for 2020 launch.
It now transpires that he was mistaken, but it took Boeing long
enough to come to its de cision.
Some industry obser vers still think Boeing’s move wa s
the wrong one, complaining that the decision to re-engine
constitutes a short-term “quick fix” instead of the bolder,
potentially more rewarding step that would be better for
the industry. Some accused Boeing of being too “risk-averse”,
while Morgan Stanley analysts claimed just before the
announcement that there was little support for a re-engined
But such complaints ring hollow when matched against the
flood of orders and commitments that greeted the A320neo.
And indeed the 400-plus commitments from five customers
Boeing already had for the 737 MAX at its launch.
As pointed out by
Teal Group analyst
Richard Aboulafia , the
aviation industry app ears
largely divided into two
camps, which are often
– not always – mutually
exclusive. ‘ Technologists’
think of the industry as te chnology-driven, while ‘economists’
see technology as a means to achieve profitability, which they
see as the ultimate goal. Those griping that Boeing should
have b een bolder fall into the technologists’ camp.
Aboulafia points out that the A320neo’s success
demanded a competitive response from Boeing by 2018 at
the latest, no matter how great the benefits of post-2020
technology could be.
One question still to be answered is – what does this mean
for Bombardier ’s C Series? Airbus’s chief salesman John Leahy
arg ued last year that the A320neo kills the business case for
Bombardier’s planned single-aisle airliner. The Canadian
manufacturer of course rejected the outspoken Airbus
executive’s comment, saying it came as “no surprise”.
Bombardier argues that its planned 2013 entry-into -ser vice
date for the CSeries gives the company a substantial “first-
mover advantage” over the re-engined A320, which will not
be delivered until 2016.
But now there’s yet another offering to contend with – and
compare the market’s response to the A320neo and the surge
of interest in the 737 MAX with Bombardier’s C Series order
book: just 133 firm orders three years after launch .
Oddly, the all-new CSeries is the only single-aisle offering
that includes all the cutting-edge technology available for
such an aircraft today, such as primary structures made of
carbon-fibre composite. The technological advantag e is
clearly Bombardier’s – as is the timing advantag e. Yet potential
customers seem unimpressed.
It appears that, for now, the advantage seems to lie with
Boeing comes out swinging
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Up until fairly recently, Boeing was scoffing
at the idea of offering a re-engined version
of its 737 line, insisting that its customers
were not seeking such a solution
2/09/11 5:45 PM
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