If Boeing engineers can solve the puzzle of building successfully with composites, they will eliminate hundreds of thousands of rivets, hours of machining time, and billions of dollars in expensive manufacturing machinery. That, in turn, should allow Boeing to price its new jet more competitively.
Charles Champion, the Airbus executive who is managing the A380's development, said last summer that he has nothing against composites.
But after years studying the trade-offs between metal and plastic, he said, Airbus decided that composites cost too much to use practically in large structures like fuselage barrels.
Building a fuselage out of composites, Champion said, "is a bit like a cake. It has to be perfect. If it isn't perfect it is ugly. We are very skeptical."
"Have you seen the B2 fly by at almost $1 billion a copy?" asked Leahy at Airbus. "It only has two seats."
Leahy at Airbus concedes that Boeing may have solved the riddle of making large, one-piece barrels.
"I believe if they say they're going to do it, they will," he said.
"The other guy's saying he can't do it. So let him say that," Frank Statkus of Boeing said. "He can't do it because he can't. We can do it because we can."