Neither Airbus nor Boeing likes to give quarter in the fierce battle for aircraft orders. Yet, when even Airbus's chief salesman John Leahy concedes that 2012 could be a better year for his fierce rival, about whom he hardly has a good word to say, maybe the tide could just be turning in favour of the US airframer.
First up, let's put things in context. Airbus is coming off a record year for orders, and has a healthy backlog. Delays to the Boeing 787 led to more orders for its A330, and the A380 is still more popular that the 747-8 in the superjumbo segment. Most significantly, it beat Boeing to the re-launch of its narrowbody aircraft. The hugely popular re-engined A320 has had some 1,300 firm orders, and not just "flaky commitments" as Leahy likes to point out in an irresistible dig.
Yet, not all is well in Toulouse. At the Singapore air show, it was Airbus that was on the back foot following its mishandling of the issue of cracks in the wings of its A380, with boss Tom Enders acknowledging "mistakes". It is still not clear if the A350 programme will stay on its revised schedule, and sales of the A330 could slow down with the Dreamliner finally in the market. Just like Boeing several years ago, Airbus has to tackle several issues at the same time.
Finally delivering the first 787 to ANA last year was probably a turning point for Boeing. It is still adjusting its production schedule for the aircraft and dealing with teething problems, but getting that monkey off its back appears to have rejuvenated the company. And orders are coming in for the aircraft, with JAL signing for 10 additional 787-9s and converting 10 787-8s to the larger variant last week.
Boeing has also finally responded in the narrowbody market, with several large commitments for its re-engined 737 Max. Lion Air provided a major fillip at the show by confirming an order for 201 and launching the -9 variant, and more are on the way. Boeing is also firming up plans for the new variant of the highly successful 777-300ER. And with Airbus tying up many of its existing A320 customers in 2011, Boeing could do the same in 2012 and edge ahead in the battle for orders.
It is perhaps ominous that Airbus did not have any passenger airliners in the static display, with a military tanker and business jets the company's only representatives. The 787, however, was the highlight, with huge crowds forming long queues to get a glimpse inside the headline-grabbing widebody. You can read too much into these things but there is clearly a sense that the tide may have finally begun to turn, starting in Singapore.
(This appears as the main leading article in the 21 February issue of Flight International)