Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer Ponder Their Next Moves

 - January 25, 2010, 6:07 AM
Bombardier C-Series

The start of a new year usually stimulates positive resolve, with which Boeing and Airbus might summarize their intentions for 2010 in three words: “Must do better.” Both companies face near- and long-term product-development challenges, as well as opportunities.

Boeing’s shoulders will have lifted as not one, but two, 787s flew last month–28 months late, following six delays. The challenge now lies in certifying and delivering the first 787 by the end of this year (if not by September 30, in line with the original nine-month schedule). Boeing now must fly the 747-8, previously delayed by 787 preoccupations.

Airbus began this year saying it will base the A350-800 design on the larger -900, which could simplify development and provide higher payload or longer range (at slightly higher fuel consumption). It also must resolve major A380 production difficulties after delivering fewer than half of the originally planned output for 2009. Meanwhile, the A330 and 777 remain upgrade candidates.

Both manufacturers must assure customers that they have not forgotten their respective commitments to the single-aisle segment. With prospects for all-new designs having receded well into the next decade, they each have begun preparing significant performance enhancements for the well-established 737NG and A320, principally through re-engining. Airbus appears likely to offer Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G geared turbofan, which, with “sharklet” wingtips, could offer 15-percent-plus better operating costs. CFM International’s Leap-X engine might soon also find a new platform, perhaps next year when Boeing looks to adopt a new powerplant for the 737NG.

As the world’s two dominant airliner OEMs mull replacement designs, they can see approaching over their shoulders Bombardier’s 110- to 145-seat C Series and a potential new Embraer entrant. If not eaten whole by Boeing and Airbus, such programs might prompt the two old sparring partners to abandon the sector in favor of new, say, 140- to 240-seat families. All the while, competition from China (Comac C919) and Russia (UAC MS-21) appears more serious than ever, thanks largely to partnerships with the same Western engine makers considered the top candidates to power re-engined Boeings and Airbuses.