As others have said, it made little sense for Boeing to jump into the VLA market. They had the only product (the 744-400) in the space, so developing a new VLA would do nothing aside from steal sales from their own product. And developing an entirely new VLA in response to the A380 would ensure the failure of both products given Boeing's market forecasts (which are not terribly optimistic on the possibility for break-even sales for just one manufacturer in the space).
A stretch of the 747 was
proposed to several airlines, but none seemed to be interested -- likely due to the cost and what were probably some very attractive launch prices offered by Airbus. And it would have been foolish to develop a stretched 747 without airlnies committing to the program first.
The availability of below-market financing offered by European governments is a huge factor as well. Reducing the cost of capital for developing the new type means that Airbus can offer lower prices than Boeing could ever hope to -- especially if they had to go to the capital markets to finance what was viewed to be a relatively risky project. When one considers that Airbus would also not be allowed to fail if the A380 had been a complete flop, the amount of risk involved is easily justified for Airbus
. If Boeing were to risk that amount of capital and be wrong, they'd see a huge decline in their market valuation if not even bankruptcy.
Even now it's hard to say if the A380 will be a success, since Airbus claims break-even is 250 frames (but who knows where acceptable return on investment lies) AND
many of the obvious candidates for orders already have made theirs. And I will take the controversial position that break-even *is* a failure in the financial sense for the project, since the several billion dollars invested in the project could have been placed into far more conservative ventures or investments and produced money instead of breaking even.
I don't have any doubt that Airbus will be successful in creating the A380, and I will be the first to acknowledge that some routes could use this plane right now! I have my doubts that they will meet their performance targets initially
based on the company's track record with other models. I question whether it will be more fuel efficient than existing widebodies given some of the figures I've seen. I have some doubts as to how competitive a product it will be with the euro above $1.20, and I just don't see the global market for it being as large as Airbus claims (or hopes) given the number of orders it has garnered so far. Many early 747's and 747-400's were bought for their range, not just capacity, and 747 orders had been weak for a while before Airbus decided to launch the A380. Now, one might argue that weak 747 orders were due in part to airlines waiting for the A380, but that then implies that the pent-up demand would have been satisfied by now.
As for "pride" -- shareholders and Wall Street just don't care that much about pride if it means the company is losing money.