Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer jostle for orders as country's airlines buck world trend and seek expansion

Airbus and Boeing have begun a major narrowbody battle at All Nippon Airways (ANA) that is expected to include firm orders for about 45 aircraft for both replacement and growth purposes.

Meanwhile, ANA is considering a sizeable order for large regional jets that could decide whether Bombardier or Embraer takes a dominant position in Japan, which is seen as a key developing market for regional services.

At the same time, Airbus and Boeing are expecting Japan Airlines (JAL) to issue a request for proposals (RFP) early next year for about 70 - and possibly more - single-aisle aircraft, making Japan a vital battleground for the two manufacturers in 2003 while the industry remains depressed in many other parts of the world.

The ANA and impending JAL competitions could result in a major shift in the airframe makers' market share.

Industry sources say ANA recently issued an RFP to Airbus and Boeing for aircraft seating more than 110 passengers. The competition is likely to run well into 2003.

For Airbus in particular, an order from ANA is considered extremely important for it to grow in a market dominated by Boeing. Airbus has made inroads over the years with A320-family orders from ANA and A300 orders from Japan Air System (JAS), although JAS has effectively been acquired by Boeing customer JAL.

Airbus's market share in Japan stands at only about 20% and it is expected to be highly aggressive with ANA, offering A320-family aircraft to replace 737-500s in service with subsidiary Air Nippon (ANK) as well as to replace early-build A320s in its mainline domestic operation. Boeing is offering its 737 and, after losing to Airbus at EasyJet, is expected to fight hard.

Airbus is seen as the favourite at ANA, but Boeing may have the advantage at JAL.

ANA is also looking at acquiring 80- to 110-seat regional jets, the sources say. Embraer has made high-level sales trips to Japan and has appointed local trading house Marubeni as its agent there.

Bombardier is seeking to maintain its dominant position in Japan. ANA recently ordered Bombardier de Havilland Dash 8 Q400 turboprops for ANK, which is already a Q300 operator.

Bombardier is the only manufacturer to have had regional jet sales successes in Japan. JAL subsidiary J-Air operates a small fleet of 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s, as does new entrant Fair Inc.

Source: Flight International