Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Airbus vs. Boeing

Singapore Airlines announced today that Airbus Industrie, the designer and builder of the monstrous A380 twin-decked superliner, would pay the air carrier compensation for delayed production and delivery of the inaugural aircraft. As Patrick had mentioned in a recent previous post, French-based Airbus has experienced difficulties in meeting the originally projected delivery date, which was set for later this year, due to challenges involved in production, namely the installation of the wiring system for the plane. Singapore declined to reveal the amount of compensation, as it has been held confidential.

It seems these days that Boeing is enjoying a period of positive press, as its new plane designs have directly answered Airbus's challenges over the recent years. Yes, the 717, a modern (and very quiet - definitely the quietest single aisle plane I have flown) update of the workhorse DC-9 and MD-80 series aircraft, was a short-lived flop that culminated in the cessation of commercial airliner production in Boeing's Long Beach plant. However, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, an updated version of the 767 double-aisle twinjet that has been in service for almost 25 years, is slated to hit the sky for the first time next year. First deliveries are expected in 2008, according to Boeing's website.

I don't know how I missed this, but Patrick also posted about the new design for the 747-8, which seems like a direct retort to Airbus's A380. With improved operating economics, fuel efficiency, and versatility (airports don't need to reconstruct their gates to accomodate the new plane!), it seems like a good alternative to the A380. Time will tell if Boeing will experience the same production issues with the 747-8 that have plagued Airbus in recent months.

Both the 787 and the 747-8 will offer unprecedented passenger amenities, including hued lighting to enhance passenger comfort, a spacious entry lobby (many fearful flyers today admit that their anxiety hits upon stepping into the cramped entry portal of the cabin), quieter engines, and improved (and sleek) swept wing design.

These two companies have battled back and forth over the last 20 years for contracts with United States-based airlines. Although American Airlines has been using the widebody A300 forover a decade, Boeing (and McDonnell Douglas, which Boeing absorbed in 1997) dominated our market until Airbus released in the late 1980s/early 1990s the A319/A320/A321 series, which is now prevalent in United Airlines', US Airways', and Jetblue's fleets. At first, pilots were weary of Airbus's new technology, as these planes use "fly-by-wire" technology where pilots literally fly the planes by turning dials and shifting levers, as opposed to controlling the aircraft with a traditional handheld yoke similar to a steering wheel, which is still found on Boeing's most modern aircraft. In fact, the first fully automated plane prototype, an A320, crashed at the 1988 Paris Airshow due to a computer malfunction. However, the manufacturer worked through its problems to finally release this technology for commercial service just a few years later. We'll see how Boeing's new planes perform in the market in the coming years...perhaps airlines will be attracted to smaller capacities (the 787) and enhanced operating efficiency (the 747-8) over the A380.


Blogger Ben said...

Thanks for the comprehensive post. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Airbus' problems are both mechanical and commercial: their jumbo jets conform to the old hub-and-spoke model, when recent trends indicate that passengers are much more interested in smaller jets that will get them from point A to point B without a connection at Point C. Granted, the old model hasn't been superseded, but Airbus appears, at least initially, to be at odds with aviaton's evolution.

8:47 PM  

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