In the big airliner market, Airbus's fortunes have fallen as fast as Boeing's have risen, while Bombardier and Russia wait in the wings

It has been year of contrasting fortunes for the world's two top airliner manufacturers. Airbus has suffered what can only be described an "annus horribilis", with major delays to its flagship A380 programme, a U-turn on its plans to tackle the Boeing 787 with a relaunch of the A350 twinjet after a very public dressing down from key customers, and the loss of two chief executives.

B747-8F emirates 
© Emirates   
Sales of Boeing's 747-8 Freighter have got off to a strong start

Across the Atlantic, Boeing has been making hay as its rival suffers, with sales of the 787 breaking records for pre-first flight orders, and the cargo market voting with its feet for the company's stretched 747 model, the -8F. The only wrinkle so far is the lack of any backing from a major airline to get the planned -8 Intercontinental passenger version off the blocks, although Boeing is working hard to put that right.

But things could not be more different in the mid-market sector, where Boeing is in the driving seat with the 787. Spurred on by its rival's success and some customers' demands to "try again" with its A350 design, Airbus announced a completely revised family based around a new wider fuselage and larger wing at Farnborough in July. On paper, the new model looks like a worthy rival to the 787 and has the potential to halt the latter's runaway success. But Airbus must ensure that the ongoing A380 production delays do not hamper the development timetable of the A350 and hand Boeing a further advantage.

Airbus's flight-test department in Toulouse is working flat-out to ensure the A380 programme ends the year with some good news - type certification from EASA. But delays mean the first fare-paying passengers will have to wait until October 2007 to experience the giant first hand.

Delayed launch worries

With Airbus somewhat distracted by its home-grown problems, Boeing has all but cornered the large cargo aircraft market over the last 12 months, racking up over 70 orders for its new 777F and 747-8F models. Airbus is well aware that it must respond quickly but has delayed the expected decision to launch the A330-200F, despite the fact that production of its only new-build all-cargo product, the A300-600F, will cease in mid-2007.

Two new Airbus and Boeing models entered service this year, the high gross-weight variant of the A340-600 with Qatar Airways, and the ultra-long-range 777-200LR with Pakistan International Airlines. Sales of the latter have now picked up after a very slow start and have overtaken the A340-500, which had been the ultra-long-range market leader. Meanwhile, flight testing of the latest in a long line of 737 variants, the -900ER, began in September with deliveries scheduled to begin to launch customer Lion Air early next year.

Bombardier's plans to beat the big guns to market with a new-generation narrowbody in the form of its 110- to 135-seat CSeries family hit the stops earlier this year when the manufacturer could not get the business case to work. In the meantime, more information has crept out about the secret studies Airbus and Boeing are carrying out into all-new narrowbody families to succeed the A320 and 737 in the next decade. However, with engine technology the key to making these aircraft attractive to the market, this area of development is likely to dictate the timing of any new aircraft.

The long-held intent to consolidate Russia's manufacturing industry appears to have finally crystallised, with the creation of holding company United Aviation (OAK). It must now act on its intent to ensure that the industry's duplication is eliminated and that production levels reach economic levels. This will require the development of new models, with the focus of initial plans on enhancing the Tupolev Tu-204 ahead of the introduction of the all-new, A320-like MS-21 family in the next decade.

Source: Flight International