Unsurprisingly Randy Baseler at Boeing is using his blog to react rapidly to Airbus’ A350 commitment. Much of what he says is as you’d imagine, but he compares the 787/A350 situation with the A340/777 in a way that I’m not so sure holds up.
Randy is keen to knock down the idea that there are advantages to being second in the market. His target today is the notion that the latecomer can make technical changes after watching the experience of the leader, as shown by the way the 777, two years after the A340, overtook it in the market.
He says that’s not right because the key factor was a “technology breakthrough” in propulsion that let Boeing commit exclusively to a twin two years later. Airbus, he says, is five years behind with no comparable breakthrough in sight. But I wonder about that (no argument about the timescales obviously).
There wasn’t really a technology breakthrough involved – more a case of years of development, mountains of data, and evolving regulatory thinking coming to a head at the right time. And the exact timing was heavily driven by Boeing’s powerful – and knowledge-backed – lobbying. I think being second hugely helped Boeing make the twin commitment – by then they had even more data, and more current data, on twins; they could talk to the airlines at a crucial time when they were also trying to understand the risks; and they could drive the regulatory agenda.
Does that have parallels this time. Well, maybe. Airbus will be able to see just how tough the composites manufacturing task is for Boeing, and will even get some experience of how the material stands up in service. They’ll find out whether the new cabin advances – lower cabin-altitude, increased humidity, mood-lighting and so on – actually matter much and if they affect costs. And they’ll benefit from the shakedown of all the new technologies and common components that the 787 will pioneer.
Believe me I’m not suggesting that Airbus is in a happy position. But I think Randy knows that there really are advantages to being second.