Divided loyalties

Flight International Comment 15 October

Brand loyalty means precious little to a modern airline. Just ask Boeing, which this week saw longtime customer Japan Airlines defect to arch-rival Airbus.With its first Airbus order – one for 31 A350s at that – JAL has helped the European airframer break into one of the last remaining markets still dominated by Boeing.No doubt Airbus will now push to replicate the success with the other big Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airways. It already operates a fleet of 18 A320s, and had been considered the more likely of the two airlines to switch its allegiance to Toulouse-made widebodies.Although no-one from JAL has come out and said it, Boeing is paying the price for delays to the 787 and for the grounding of the Dreamliner earlier this year. As two of the biggest customers for the twinjet, ANA and JAL have felt the disruptions more keenly than most.The pressure is now on Seattle to avoid ANA giving it another bloody nose. In this respect its efforts may prove fruitless, however. The carrier is likely to order a clutch of A350s as 777 replacements, if nothing else to avoid being at a competitive disadvantage to JAL’s shiny new fleet.Boeing’s roots run deep in the country, with Japanese participation in several programmes, but JAL’s commitment shows how an airframer cannot afford to rest on its laurels. You snooze, you lose, they say, and Boeing has been decidedly somnolent.

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