Just before departing the Farnborough Air Show, senior executives at Airbus and Boeing confidently asserted that their now-divergent widebody jet line-ups are complete and that there’ll be no more big strategic moves in the near future.
What may be the last big piece deployed in this chess match was launched by Airbus on the opening day of the Air Show: the A330neo, an update of its successful mid-size twinjet sporting new engines, extended wings and winglets.
According to the leadership of both sides, now all the pieces are in play and it’s game on for the sales teams.
In an interview Thursday, Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of Airbus, said the two rival manufacturers “have slightly different strategies.”
Boeing is going for a large twinjet, the 777-9X, with 407 seats. Airbus won’t go head-to-head with that, its largest twinjet being the A350-1000 with 369 seats.
“We don’t envisage to do it, at least mid-term,” said Bregier. “We are not obliged to share exactly the same view. … I am pretty comfortable with my widebody family.”
In a separate interview, his sales chief John Leahy even mocked the notion of launching a 400-seat jet, saying it will not appeal to a broad range of airlines.
“I know some people in Seattle would love us to do that,” Leahy said. “But I have no big queue of customers wanting us to do it.”
At the smaller end of the widebody market, Airbus now has its A330neo derivative. In contrast, Boeing offers the all-new, all-composite 787 Dreamliner.
Bregier said the A330neo wing extensions and new engines will give it the same fuel efficiency as the 787 and “its cost is largely lower.”
“I can tell you, there is much less risk to launch the A330neo than to launch the 787,” he said.
Leahy said the only way Boeing could respond is by reducing the price of the 787, which he said would be very difficult given high production costs.
Yet Boeing executives likewise expressed complete confidence in their choices for the widebody jet segment.
In an interview, Boeing sales chief John Wojick said that the 787 and 777 families provide a 5-jet line-up with consistent steps up in size all the way from 200 seats to 400 seats.
“It took a lot of investment, in the 787, as well as the 777 and 777X, to get to that place,” said Wojick. “It’s tough to compete with. This is a tremendous position to be in.”
And Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice president of marketing, dismissed the claims Airbus made for its newly launched A330neo at Farnborough.
“The 787 flies further, flies higher, flies faster. It has better economics and a better passenger experience,” said Tinseth.
He said constant chatter in the industry that Boeing might launch a 757 replacement is completely premature.
“There’s a whole lot of talk about something that we’re not putting a lot of resources into,” Tinseth said. “We have so many things that are a higher priority.” Then he ticked off the plan to deliver the 737MAX in 2017, the 787-10 in 2018, the 777-9X in 2020 and the 777-8X after that.
“We’re well positioned,” Tinseth said. “Our strategy is set through to the 777X.”
Both Boeing’s decision to go with a derivative in launching the 777X and now Airbus’s launch of a derivative in the A330neo are in line with the conservative sentiment separately expressed in recent months by Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders and Boeing chairman Jim McNerney: that they will develop no all-new airplanes for some years.
Bregier elaborated on why.
“If you can do it with $1 billion investment, why should you take the risk to invest 10 times more, wait another three years, and then be in a difficult situation like we all are to launch a new program,” he said. “Both companies came to the same conclusion: That there is more to give to the customer shorter term with incremental innovation, rather than waiting for 7 or 8 years for a new-generation aircraft which at the end doesn’t bring all the value we expected.”
“The new generation of aircraft for us will not enter into service before 2030,” Bregier said.
In the meantime, it looks like we have a clear view of the competitive jet line-ups. In the coming year or two, we may begin to see who’s made the better choices.
At the Air Show, Jeff Knittel, chief executive of leading airplane leasing company CIT, on the same day ordered both the new Airbus A330neo and the Boeing 787-9, two jets that compete head-to-head.
Lessors order only planes that they know many different airlines will want.
“The market has spoken about the existing A330 and the 787. They are significant successes,” said Knittel in an interview. He pointed out that the Dreamliner has won more than 1,000 orders. And more than 1,000 A330s have been delivered, so that it’s logical the airlines flying them may transition easily to the A330neo.
“There’s more than enough market space for both aircraft to be successful,” said Knittel.