August 24, 2007


The ultimate global battle: a review of Boeing Versus Airbus by John Newhouse (Benjamin A Shobert, 8/24/07, Asia Times)

[B]y outsourcing large portions of the 787, Boeing sent a strong message to its workforce about what the company was prepared to do in case it had labor problems on its hands again.

Newhouse expands on this second point when he writes, "There is no evidence, however, that Boeing is saving much money by outsourcing the 787's wing or sections of the fuselage. Japan is not a cheap labor market. To the contrary. Neither is Italy. But the outsourcing does send a message to the unions that Boeing deals with. It says: 'If you mess too hard with us, we can always outsource your job to another place'" (p 169).

Third, the 787's systems-integrator model is an attempt by Boeing to break internal paradigms, the incestuous influence of years of success that set too many people's feet in concrete and made them resistant to change, even as Airbus became increasingly successful. Says Newhouse, "Boeing's engineers are in the main hostile to 'farming out tribal knowledge', as some of them put it" (p 28).

It would be hard to imagine how Airbus's now much-publicized and seemingly plagued A380 super-jumbo could be more different from the 787. Unlike Boeing's reduced-hub model, Airbus believes that the largest unserved market potential lies within Asia, and that the demand here is going to be for aircraft with capacities beyond those of the current generation of 747s. As Airbus officials shared with Newhouse, one out of every 10 flights into London's Heathrow is a 747 jumbo; using the A380, many more passengers could go through the airport with no increase in flights.

It remains a very subjective question, and one Newhouse leaves largely unexplored, how such a change would impact already congested destinations like Heathrow. We are left to wonder, at this early stage of the plane's introduction, how much of a joy it will bring the average traveler. Thoughts of these planes disgorging additional hundreds of people into already strained secondary security checkpoints, customs lanes and baggage claims leaves one less than enthused.

Similarly, the A380 does nothing to rekindle the glamour airplanes once had. Newhouse quotes Adam Brown, former vice president for consumer affairs at Airbus: "The A380 is ugly. [It has a bloated, snub-nosed look.] I concede that," he said. "It has to be, though. To be compatible with the parameters of airports, it is required to sit in an 80-meter-square box. "

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 24, 2007 7:24 AM
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