12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
The SBAC show at Farnborough, which starts today, will not be the last of its kind. That dubious honour, some would say, might fall to the 2006 show, the organisers making serious noises that in four years' time there could be fundamental changes in the whole scenario, even perhaps a new venue. One thing for sure this year”s Farnborough is likely to be a low key affair, no important new aircraft, perhaps not even any major orders, the talk mainly of prospects and of the future. However, once again it will be a vital gathering of the industry, a discussion shop where, inside a few hours, it is possible to see more contacts than in a year”s expensive travelling.
At Farnborough Boeing will be pushing the 7E7, probably with new commitments, but as hard as they try, the mighty new Airbus will be the talk of the show, its recent unofficial rollout at Toulouse a visual, and very public, statement that the A380 has arrived (see photo on http://www.abtn.co.uk). Indeed Farnborough will be the last major aviation exhibition without the Airbus A380. You can be absolutely certain that the French will ensure that the Toulouse assembled aircraft will steal the show at Le Bourget in 2005. In 2006 the British public will get a taste of the aircraft expected to be put into service by Singapore Airlines in time for that year”s busy Christmas programme.
Now is a fine opportunity to consider the future of the A380 and compare it with the Boeing 747, 35 years since its first flight in 1969, and with around 1,350 sold, a great commercial success. In spite of rumoured growth in weight and any technical problems that a programme of such complexity will have to overcome, the A380 will fly and by the end of the decade could be rolling off the production lines, at a rate of one a week. The Airbus forecast over the next 20 years is for 1,535 very large aircraft, such as the A380. Boeing says 900.
Some comparisons can be made be made between the 747 and the A380 both from an airline and sales point of view. The 747 with well over 400 seats (although the Japanese have operated short haul 500 passenger versions) was a quantum leap from the popular single aisle long haul aircraft of the time, the Boeing 707 with only 180 passengers. The A380, currently with a suggested 550 passengers for the initial production version, is certainly bigger than its competitor, but not that much larger. In fact the 747 has grown in theoretical capacity over the years with the upper deck stretch on the dash 400 series, but for practical purposes it has shrunk, 10 abreast now instead of 11 and both business and first class capacity reduced to allow more passenger legroom, the competitive nature of the airline business dictating thus. Whether it be at the back of the aircraft, or upstairs, the client wants, and has got, more space.
When Boeing launched the 747 it came in with large orders from its homeland carriers. Pan Am 33, TWA 15, American 16, Northwest 29. BOAC ordered 18, Air France 16. And the orders rolled in. Two for Aer Lingus. Four for El Al. A few here and a few there. Prior to the first flight Boeing has orders for 264 aircraft from 30 carriers. As things stand today there are 129 orders for the A380 including 10 from leasing company ILFC and 17 for the dash 100F cargo versions. No orders from North America this time around (and no US commitments for the Boeing 7E7 either ” how the market place has changed).
So where do we stand? Boeing has in a way brought the A380 upon itself. Lots of talk of 747 upgrades and innovations but nothing of real consequence since the first flight of the Dash 400 in 1988 and an order book that takes it forward for two years. Will the four-engined A380 justify the investment and true cost, including the complexity of transporting parts from all over the world by land, sea and air to the inland assembly site of Toulouse? Or is the real future the ”big twin”, two economical engines and a relatively simple airframe, well proven and now easily accepted for long over water sectors by both customers and airlines alike. The debate will go on (and on) through and after Farnborough. The airline business (and the manufacturing industry that supports it) remains an exciting and challenging commodity. Roll on 2006.