12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
John Leahy was in a pretty high-spirited mood when he spoke to a ”full house” Aviation Club luncheon at London”s Institute of Directors last week. And why not? The one time Piper aircraft salesman has done pretty well over the last few years and as Airbus executive vice president customer affairs and chief commercial officer he has probably sold more aircraft, certainly in dollar terms, than any person living or dead - to date 139 Airbus A380 and vast numbers of A320 series andA 330/340 wide bodies. Yes he had a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) from a major overseas carrier having been in China twice over the last four weeks, but no he did not have an order.
Most people would agree that Boeing got it wrong when the completely re-vamped 737 was named ”next generation”. An honest moniker but hardly enough to set the world alight. The Boeing 787 would have sounded like a new aircraft. Toulouse is not going to make that mistake. Questioned on the Airbus A350, an aircraft that has never been officially announced, Leahy in one breath said it was a new aircraft, and in another made it very clear it was a re-engineered A330, said by some to be compromise due to its shared heritage with the A340. If the A350 does come off what will happen to existing A330 orders? One thing for sure there will be no flight crew problems. Airbus is always keen to emphasise commonality between its products, and assuming the A330 begets the A350, pilots could be flying both types. Interestingly one of the virtues of A320 series over the 737 was just that extra bit of cabin width. With the 7E7 it is 14 inches wider than the A330/350. What will Airbus say now?
John”s discourse was not supposed to be a sales plug for Airbus, but inevitably its was just that. After all in just 30 years the European consortium has gone from zero aircraft to nearly 3,700 delivered and over 50% of the heavy aircraft market. Airbus introduced the two crew concept, fly by wire and the removal of the old fashioned control stick with the advantages of a clear flight deck panel view.
What he did emphasise, with no apologies, was Airbus commitment to its UK factories, and the two way benefits. The company (20% owned by BAe Systems plc) has major plants at Broughton (Chester) and Filton (Bristol) employing 12,000 staff, forming the centres of excellence for wing design and assembly for all members of the Airbus family. The multi-national business is one of the largest providers of industrial apprenticeships in the UK with a highly active graduate recruitment, training and development programme. Leahy claimed, and it is not to be disputed, that more than 100,000 people are dependent in the UK on Airbus, not including Rolls-Royce, who reckon that 14,000 jobs are Airbus generated.
Britain has been a fine Airbus customer. Initially British Caledonian, long gone Excalibur the first charter patron, British Airways carefully at first and then with enthusiasm, Virgin Atlantic and now easyJet with a massive order. Even if a British airline is not a lead customer for the A380 Heathrow will be its home in the years to come. Leahy reckons that by 2008 there will be 15/20 A380 flights daily out of the airport. And the Airbus A400M turboprop is set for the RAF for the future.
If he started his discourse in a high-spirited mood Leahy finished exuberantly. ”The 747 changed the world of air travel in the 20th century; the A380 will revolutionise air travel for the 21st century,” he said. The American in Toulouse is a mighty good aircraft salesman.