Airbus and Boeing are hopeful that 2010 will see orders begin to rebound for their ultra-large airliners, although both acknowledge that the market remains tough in the aftermath of last year's global downturn.
In 2009 Airbus and Boeing secured just nine new ultra-large aircraft orders - four A380s and five 747-8s. However, while Airbus did not suffer any A380 cancellations, its US rival lost three 747-8 orders, dropping its net sales to two units and the A380/747 combined total to six aircraft.
Boeing chief executive James McNerney expects that orders will begin coming in for the 747-8 later in 2010: "I think you're going to see some thaw in this market toward the second half of this year. You'll see some orders that are in the midst of discussions right now," McNerney told delegates at the Cowen and Company Aerospace/Defence Conference in Cleveland, Ohio in mid-February.
McNerney appeared to signal that the all-cargo 747-8F, rather than the -8I passenger model, was the leading candidate for more orders in the near term. Freight operators "have been focused wholly on getting capacity out for the last 18 months, now they realise they may be short. So we're getting pickup on discussions on the freighter side," he said.
At the Singapore air show in early February, Airbus's chief operating officer customers John Leahy acknowledged that "there won't be an awful lot" of A380 orders this year, but indicated that 2010 should start to see a recovery. "The number of A380 orders this year will probably be around 10," he said. "We're still in a bit of a recession and in down periods the 747/A380 category is the one that the big carriers tend put off the decision to order."
McNerney concurs, saying that the current trading conditions make selling the passenger version of the 747-8I difficult. "We've kept a lot of passenger discussions warm on this side, but no-one is buying $250 million machines. We're hopeful that some things could popthe recession has not helped its marketing," he said in Cleveland.
Despite the slow sales pace of the A380 in recent years, Airbus is still resolute in its view that the 202 orders taken so far are just the tip of the iceberg in the long-term market, and expects the Asian carriers to be key to untapping this demand.
"We see the Asian market accounting for more than half of the A380's forecast open demand over the next 20 years," says A380 product marketing chief Richard Carcaillet. That equates to Asia needing around 880 of forecast 1,300 ultra-large airliners to be delivered. "We think the A380 will claim the bulk of this demand," he adds.
Carcaillet, who predicts that the major A380 operators will eventually have fleets of "50 aircraft or more", expects the double-decker's demonstrated strong passenger appeal will drive up sales. "The A380 is a real 'passenger magnet' - they are operating today at load factors above 80%. When the upturn comes these characteristics will be magnified - and the operators that don't have A380s yet are watching very closely," he says.