Last year’s record-breaking orderbooks for civil aircraft offer evidence to support the Boeing case for long-range, twin-engined aircraft rather than four, according to Randy Baseler, vice-president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Baseler says there are several factors that made 2005 a record sales year: against a background of a thriving world economy, airlines were returning to financial health and passenger numbers were running at higher than 2000 levels. “It makes the airlines excited about ordering not just replacement aircraft, but growth aircraft,” says Baseler.
He adds that another factor was the continuing high price of oil and the desire of the airlines to seek the most fuel-efficient aircraft.
“It did have some effect on how the airlines were buying. It became more of a part of the overall value proposition and the clear example is the 777 versus the [Airbus] A340, or two engines versus four,” he says.
Baseler claims that the 777 offers 20% lower fuel consumption per passenger than the A340-500/600.
He adds that Airbus had tacitly conceded the twin engine for long distance debate by launching its A350 challenger to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as a twin-engined aircraft.
“They hung on to their four-engine strategy way too long,” he says. “They chose to hang on to four engines and now they have two aircraft that are basically obsolete.”
Baseler says that while 2005 had exceeded all expectations, he believes that orders in 2006 will return to “more normal levels.”
He says: “I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. I think we will see strong orders for the industry, but nothing like 2005.”
By the end of the year, he says he expects US carriers to get into the order cycle.
Turning to the prospects for a replacement for the Boeing 737 single-aisle family, Baseler says that while Boeing is exploring a range of technologies, he does not rate the prospects of an early replacement as high.
“With the 787 it is breakthrough technology. It will fly further and it adds a lot of value to airlines,” he says. “If you look at the 737 or the [Airbus] A320, most airlines would probably not want significant additional range. They operate typically on 500 [800km] or 600 mile sectors.
“We are working very hard on the technologies available and working with the engine companies. We are also working with the airlines to define what the hurdles are. We will try to understand that in the next two to three years.”