When the Farnborough Air Show opens Monday outside London, the pressure will be on Airbus executives, who face a stack of big strategic questions about how they’ll revamp their widebody-jet lineup.
Such high-stakes decisions are frequently angst-ridden. In 2011, Boeing stumbled into the launch of the 737 MAX, its updated narrowbody, then dithered for more than a year before launching its 777X last fall.
At Farnborough, “the eyes of the aviation world are on Airbus,” said Richard Aboulafia, longtime aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. “There isn’t the same level of existential dilemma for Boeing at this Air Show.”
That’s how John Wojick, head of sales at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, sees it too.
Once Boeing launched the 777X in Dubailast November, Wojick’s widebody-jet strategy was set. Boeing now has a clear plan to execute: Ramp up production of 787 Dreamliners and deliver the 777X on time.
Airbus, in contrast, is still pondering how to fill gaps at the larger and smaller ends of its lineup.
In a preshow interview, Wojick said Airbus “will have to make some big investments” to fill those holes and to answer the questions the aviation world is now asking:
Will Airbus launch a new version of the A330 mid-size twinjet with new fuel-efficient engines to compete against Boeing’s 787?
At the larger end of the twinjet market, what can Airbus do to compete against Boeing’s 777X ?
And what must it do to keep its flagging A380 superjumbo jet program viable?
The answer to the first question looks nearly certain — Airbus may even launch the A330neo at Farnborough.
The entire aviation industry will look for clues at the Air Show to Airbus’ other possible moves.
“This is a chess game,” Wojick said. “They are a very fierce competitor. They will continue to invest.”
Washington delegationThe Farnborough Air Show alternates annually with the Paris Air Show as the pre-eminent event on the aerospace calendar, a place to assess the current state of the aviation business and the continuing rivalry between Airbus and Boeing.
One cloud in Boeing’s sky is certain to be a hot topic inside the private chalets at Farnborough: the possibility that Congress may kill the U.S. Export-Import Bank, cutting an important source of backstop funding for its jet sales.
Otherwise, Boeing can be satisfied with a steady-at-the-helm message at Farnborough.
It may firm up more of the massive 777X orders announced in Dubai. And at the daily flying displays it will showcase one of its new Dreamliner models, the 787-9 — the first of which was freshly delivered to Air New Zealand just before the show.
The jet-maker is expected to dismiss recent fears that orders could melt away, and to reiterate aggressive plans to ramp up production rates, keeping its Puget Sound area plants on track to churn out airplanes as never before.
FARNBOROUGH AIR SHOW QUESTIONS CENTER ON AIRBUS STRATEGY
In the daily flying displays, the biggest attraction shoFARNBOROUGH AIR SHOW QUESTIONS CENTER ON AIRBUS STRATEG Yuld be the Air Show debut of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, assuming the Pentagon gives the all clear. An engine fire last month temporarily grounded the entire F-35 fleet.
Airbus will fly its new A350, still in flight test and due for first delivery by year-end; its superjumbo A380; and its A400M military-cargo Turboprop.
Boeing will fly the 787-9 as well as its P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine jet—a military version of the 737 that’s built in Renton and fitted with weapon and sensor systems in Seattle.
Mohini Porwal [ B Sc]
Trainee News Editor