From today's Chicago Tribune:
Rival visions of air travel
Boeing, Airbus chart different plans for future
By John Schmeltzer
Tribune staff reporter
June 21, 2001
PARIS—Fierce rivals Boeing Co. and Airbus Industrie can find a few things to agree on.
Both agree that demand for air travel will grow about 4.8 percent annually for the next 20 years. They also agree that thousands of new planes, perhaps as many as 23,500 by Boeing's estimates, will be flying in 20 years worldwide, compared with roughly 14,600 now.
But that's where the world's two remaining manufacturers of large passenger planes part company.
Seattle-based Boeing, which is moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago later this year, bets that airlines are more interested in speed—and getting their customers to their destinations faster.
Airbus, a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Systems Co., insists that size is the most important attribute. Larger planes will be the only way airports and air traffic control systems can cope with the growing crush of passengers, it says.
Don't expect an end to the debate anytime soon as the two companies vie for supremacy in the passenger jet market. Boeing holds about 60 percent of that market, but Airbus is gaining ground.
At the Paris Air Show this week, the two giants are working hard to sway airlines to their view of the market.
Boeing says it has the answer should airlines chose speed over size.
Alan Mulally, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, says major airlines, including Elk Grove Township-based United Airlines and Ft. Worth-based American Airlines, are lining up to become the first to buy Boeing's proposed Sonic Cruiser.
Boeing says the jet would seat 250 and fly at 95 to 98 percent of the speed of sound, or more than 600 m.p.h., at an altitude of 50,000 feet. That would shave 90 minutes off what is now a seven-hour flight from New York to Paris.
Most passenger jets today fly at less than 550 m.p.h. at an altitude of 30,000 to 35,000 feet.
If Boeing moves forward on the project, the jet could enter service in five to seven years. A decision could come within the year.
Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United, confirmed Boeing is working closely with United's engineering department in designing the aircraft, which would have a large delta wing at the rear.
So interested are world airlines that Richard Branson, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, made a special trip from London on Tuesday to corner Mulally at the air show to reiterate his airline's desire to get one of the first Sonic Cruisers.
Airbus, on the other hand, dismisses Boeing's idea, saying the cost of the plane outweighs any time savings.
"I would be very skeptical if the Sonic Cruiser is ever built as it is being currently discussed," said John Leahy, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Airbus. "This is a giant public relations exercise."
Airbus is touting its newest aircraft, the A400M, designed to replace the C-130 military cargo plane, and the 550-seat A380, which will seat passengers on two decks.
Many observers, in fact, share Leahy's view, noting that Boeing has proposed other products that never made it to the production line. Just last year, the company abandoned plans to build the 747X, a stretch version of the Boeing 747, currently the world's largest and fastest passenger plane. And it scrapped plans to build the 767ERX, an extended-range version of the Boeing 767.
Leahy says Airbus research indicates that there is a market for 1,600 large passenger jets over the next 20 years.
Earlier this week, Airbus unveiled orders by Los Angeles-based International Lease Finance Corp. for five more of its huge A380s. The company says it has firm orders for 67 of the planes, which it has begun making at its headquarters in Toulouse, France, about 350 miles south of Paris.
By the end of the year, Airbus expects to have firm orders for 100 A380s and options for another 100, Leahy says.
Mulally and John Roundhill, vice president of new airplane marketing for Boeing, scoff at the idea the market for a large jet still could be as large as suggested by Airbus. "In 30 years, we've only delivered 1,200 747s," said Mulally, noting that Boeing has orders for 30 more of the 400-seat planes.
But just in case Boeing is wrong, Mulally said he could quickly dust off the plans for the rejected 747X.
Even the Sonic Cruiser has a fallback position, said Roundhill, noting that it is being designed to fill a specific market niche—a 250-seat plane capable of flying halfway around the world non-stop. A redesigned 767 could fill that niche if the cruiser becomes impractical, he said.
But the airlines have told Boeing they really would like a product that offers something currently not available. "Every airline I talked to took one nanosecond to say, 'Let's make the Sonic Cruiser,"' Mulally said. nters on speed vs. size