Any doubts that the future of Airbus’s flagship product was genuinely under threat were demolished by the blunt assessment from outgoing head salesman John Leahy. If Emirates did not buy more, the A380 programme was finished, he said.
During Airbus’s 2017 business review, Leahy and fellow departing executive Fabrice Brégier engaged in a bit of bad cop/good cop banter. As Brégier talked of the A380’s “commercial challenge” and the potential for other orders, Leahy said simply that the superjumbo was dead without Emirates.
Hearing Leahy say these words came as a shock, which was exactly what was intended: he is nothing if not cunning.
During the A380’s pre-launch activities, it was then-boss Noël Forgeard who was front of house in the global lobbying effort to secure signed “letters of interest” from potential customers. With a decision to launch never a formality, Leahy’s absence – publicly at least – caused cynics to wonder if he was avoiding the risk of being associated with a high-profile flop.
Now, with retirement looming, Leahy was staring at the prospect of leaving Airbus with the A380’s demise as his legacy. So he made the ultimate gamble, publicly throwing down the gauntlet to Emirates. The plan has worked, allowing him to hang up his hat with at least 10 more years of production assured. Result.