Boeing and Airbus have both arrived at the Farnborough International 2012 show under new leadership, but don’t expect any cooling in the hostility between the world’s top-two airliner manufacturers. The U.S. airframer is expected to draw the first blood in the orders battle today if, as is expected, Air Lease Corp. confirms an anticipated order for 50 or more of Boeing’s new 737 MAX narrowbodies.
Airbus isn’t set to hold its main show press conference until Thursday morning, but show-goers should be ready for some commercial retaliation here at Farnborough before then. The European airframer’s new president and CEO, Fabrice Bregier, who has taken over from newly promoted EADS chief executive Tom Enders, is expected to spring some sort of surprise, and senior Boeing executives have alerted the press to be on standby for big news right through show week.
The change of leadership at Boeing Commercial Airplanes has been more dramatic, with the U.S. manufacturer expediting the retirement of CEO Jim Albaugh just a little more than a week before the show. His replacement, Ray Conner, indicated to journalists in London yesterday that he will not be rushed into decisions about the prospective launch of the new 777X and 787-10X airliners–despite earlier indications from his predecessor that these programs were already taxiing at pace toward board approval.
On the 777X, Conner said he is not working to what was understood to have been a year-end deadline for taking a program launch decision to Boeing’s board. He insisted that the company will use whatever time it needs to be sure it is ready to proceed and that it has all the necessary resources in place. More specifically, it is still evaluating prospective engine and wing choices for the new model.
Similarly, the new Boeing boss said the proposed 787-10X development will get a green light only when and if “we feel we have the right airplane.” One key decision will be engine selection, and the airframer is known to be in advanced stages of discussion with Rolls-Royce on another Trent turbofan derivative (see page 30).
Conner was less guarded in his comments about Airbus’s recent move to open a U.S. factory in Mobile, Alabama. He vehemently rejected any suggestion that this would improve the European group’s prospects of selling aircraft to U.S. carriers, arguing that these clients don’t care where their fleets are assembled. “We compete purely on performance, cost, value and relationships,” he concluded.