By Lou Washington

The Farnborough air show closed recently and we were once again treated to a daily box score of Boeing orders versus Airbus orders.  This year Boeing seemed to emerge as the overall winner.

I believe this ongoing competition is really of more interest to the media than it is to the trade professionals and industry analysts active in the aerospace arena. I think that portion of the plane riding public that actually cares about the kind of airplane they are riding on, tends to select aircraft equipment based on specific models more than the name of the manufacturer.

It is an interesting business study to watch how these two companies behave. There are few industries where there are only two dominant, worldwide vendors that square off against each other over virtually every selling opportunity that arises. As the light or regional jet market shows continued growth and an increasing number of players, the heavyweight division remains the undisputed territory of these two giants.

The flying public is doubtless better off with both of these guys operating in a perpetual dead heat. There is little doubt in my mind that Boeing is a better company because Airbus has forced them to be better via the marketplace.  On the other hand, Airbus has benefited from Boeing breaking ground and setting the bar in commercial aviation over the last 75 years or so. Competition is a beautiful thing when it works.

Consider the more recent past ten years. At the beginning of the century, both companies were considering potential new programs. Both had some form of fuel-efficient new design under consideration. Boeing also had the near mach Sonic Cruiser project. Airbus had the gargantuan A380 model under consideration.

It had to be a tough decision. It had to be a “bet the company” type decision that would doubtless be revisited many, many times over the initial years of development.

In the end, Boeing chose the Dreamliner fuel miser program and Airbus moved ahead with the A380. For consumers it was the best of all possible outcomes. For the two companies, I believe the selection was best of all as well.

Boeing opted for a completely new airplane, built-in a wholly new manner utilizing techniques never before used. Boeing developed a worldwide supply chain and outsourcing process that was far removed from anything they had done prior to the 787 program.

Airbus learned to build the biggest passenger transport aircraft ever flown.

Both companies took up a challenge that would at least teach them how to do something they didn’t already know how to do. This means they made an investment that would pay dividends well beyond the life of the program itself. Even if the programs were not successful, each would come out with a level of expertise in an area previously unknown by them.

For all the publicity about how much of a problem Boeing had with their world-wide supply chain and component manufacturing outsourced to companies half a world away, Boeing now has people successfully working on the 787 in countries all over the planet. All of those countries have national flag carriers and they all buy airplanes.

Additionally, Boeing has learned how to build with rivet-less composites.  This is a radical departure from the construction of traditional aluminum and titanium skinned airframes.  Doubtless the whole area of lightweight, high strength materials will be important to aerospace manufacturers for a long time.

When you look at the A380, you have to be impressed with the sheer size of the thing. I’ve seen the A380 here in Cincinnati. Airbus arranged a fly over at the GE Aircraft Engine plant a couple of years ago during a promotional tour of the new plane. Seeing it during the low-level fly by really gave you some perspective. This airplane is just huge.

Time will tell if Airbus made a smart decision in terms of the market for this plane, but meanwhile, the plane is doing a great job linking up Asia with Europe and North America. So we, the flying public, win because we have two ground breaking aircraft that are there to take us where we want to go.