We knew that Boeing doesn’t plan to launch a new airliner before the end of this decade. Boeing is ambitious that when it DOES launch something, its development could take as little as five years (entering service around 2035), thanks to new digital design and manufacturing tools. Unsurprisingly, this is something that many in the industry are skeptical about.
What is new is that the Boeing CEO doesn’t expect Airbus to come up with something new in the same timeframe, either. Calhoun argues that Airbus is in waiting mode, monitoring the same technological developments as Boeing.
Boeing, Airbus – What’s New?
Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum, Calhoun said:
“I think in our industry, because of some of the constraints both in propulsion and the design of the wing, it’s going to be at least until the mid-2030s before we – in this case I’m just going to assume my competitor – will call out that airplane.”
The Boeing CEO is likely referring to new developments like the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) and engine projects like the CFM RISE. However, unlike Boeing, Airbus doesn’t necessarily need to come up with a completely new design, for a middle-of-the-market aircraft.
As we have seen, some analysts believe that Airbus has been examining the possibility of a so-called “A322”. This would essentially be a longer A321, with a new high aspect-ratio composite wing. Airbus could use the same wing on an “A320.5”, essentially re-jigging its long-standing single-aisle family.
At the lower end of the single-aisle market, Airbus has another [not-so] new option, that could hit Boeing hard. A longer A220-500 could be considerably more efficient than Boeing’s 737 MAX-8. The launch of such an aircraft could well cause Boeing to launch an all-new design faster.
A Waiting Game
On the other hand, this is where the process becomes a cat-and-mouse game between the two manufacturers. At the moment, Airbus is comfortably outselling Boeing – and has little reason to force it to launch something new.
Financially, Airbus would be able to respond to such a Boeing move with its own all-new plane. But why go to the trouble, when they have 60% of the single-aisle market, and can’t [yet] produce jets fast enough to get an even bigger piece of the pie? Scott Hamilton in Leeham News has pointed out that Airbus shows signs of getting complacent.
Also at the Qatar Economic Forum, Qatar Airlines CEO Akbar Al Baker disagreed with Dave Calhoun. Al Baker thinks that both Boeing and Airbus need to actively start pursuing the launch of new designs today. More broadly, Al Baker was critical of slow developments around sustainable aviation fuels and hydrogen fuel cells.
The Qatar CEO said that he doubts that the airline industry will really be able to hit its 2050 goal for net-zero emissions, especially when the two manufacturers aren’t actively developing something new today. Many airliners entering service today or by the end of this decade will likely still be around in 2050 – impacting long-term emissions targets.
Sources: Reuters, Leeham News
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