Airbus and Boeing are pursuing different strategies to meet air travel demand

If Airbus's decision to launch the A380 was the most predictable event in the large aircraft market recently, then Boeing must take the prize for the most surprising development with the high-profile announcement of its sonic cruiser transonic airliner concept. As outlined in this year's World Airliners directory, in tandem with these announcements both manufacturers have made significant U-turns on planned product developments.

The A380 and sonic cruiser moves underline the two rivals' opposing views on the long term market requirements: Boeing sees frequency and fragmentation as the driver, while Airbus remains adamant that the infrastructure will not be able to cope with unlimited growth, thereby forcing force airlines to utlilise the ultra large A380 on long-haul trunk routes. Both have stirred strong reactions: Airbus has picked up a healthy tally of orders from A380 launch customers, while many leading airlines have made encouraging noises about the sonic cruiser. Only time will tell which strategy will be the market leader, or if indeed there is sufficient demand to enable both concepts to thrive.

Boeing's planned 747X Stretch family was a casualty of the A380 launch. The programme was quietly dropped along with the long-range 767-400ERX project amid the fanfare of the sonic cruiser's unveiling. While it lasted, Boeing's talk of a stretched 747 derivative forced some intense sales campaigns for the A380.

The 767-400ERX's cancellation was in many ways more significant. Faced with almost no interest in the basic 767-400ER, the decision to drop the longer-range model has left a hole in Boeing's battle lines as Airbus's A330-200 now goes unchallenged in that sector of the market.

Airbus has not escaped unscathed, terminating its A330-500 "shrink" after failing to secure enough customer interest. The move leaves the European manufacturer once again vacillating over the best way to replace the A300/A310.

The new large widebodies - the A340-500/600 and 777-200LR/300ER - have experienced comparative quiet recently in sales terms. Flight testing of the former is well advanced in Toulouse, and deliveries should begin in the middle of next year, shortly before the first 777-300ER's roll-out.

Making most of the headlines recently has been a 30-year-old airliner, the Aerospatiale/BAe Concorde, as work goes on to return it to service. The much anticipated return of airworthiness certifcates is expected in the coming weeks, and the Mach 2 airliner should be back in front line service by autumn.

Russian and Ukrainian manufacturers continue to suffer from the region's lack of cash. The creation of government-backed leasing schemes should help the new generation types such as the Tupolev Tu-204/214 and Ilyushin Il-96 find a solid footing, but they appear to be too late to save the troubled Pratt & Whitney PW2337-powered Il-96M/T programme.

Source: Flight International