A Commercial Aviation Consultancy

John Leahy couldn’t be prouder, and he has every right to be. It’s his best air show order tally ever, and he’s been in selling Airbus airplanes for more than 20 years.

Throughout the 20 years, it’s been one constant verbal battle between Airbus and  Boeing. And to be sure, this continues unabated, with as much vigor as ever.

But Leahy has a new fight with the “B” and it’s not Boeing. It’s Bombardier. And this took on a new dimension at the Paris Air Show, with Leahy taking shots before the world’s press covering the event.

In reviewing the A320neo orders, Leahy flashed artwork of each airline announcing a deal at the show, including Frontier Airlines (though the order was actually placed by parent Republic Airways Holdings). And Leahy said, “I see no room from Bombardier.”

Bombardier has an order with Republic for 40+40 CS300s, which competes with the A319neo for which Republic is now the launch customer. The CS300 first delivers in 2015 and the A319neo the next year.

Given the muscle of Airbus, and of CFM/GECAS which provided “great incentives”, that the A319neo is the same size as the CS300 and Republic’s precarious financial condition, the industry immediately jumped to the conclusion that this will lead to the cancellation of the CSeries.

Republic says the order is intact. Leahy says that the A319neo kills the business case for the CSeries. AirInsight concluded in a study last year the A319neo falls well short of the CS300′s economics.

After the short reference to BBD in the presentation, Leahy was cornered by a number of reporters who asked him about the CSeries. He said that if it were his program, he’d redesign the airplane or kill it. Google News searches will turn up any number of stories on point.

Leahy’s campaign began in May 2010 when at the Airbus Innovation Days when he said the then-pending neo program, if launched, would kill the business case for the CSeries. This has been a recurring theme since. Leahy stepped up the stakes with the suggestion that BBD should cancel the program.

At the Innovation Days, Leahy said Airbus was not going to make the same mistake with BBD that Boeing did with Airbus–that is, not take the threat seriously.

Our take: Airbus indeed takes the threat from BBD seriously. Among other things, we’ve ridden the A320 family, which from a passenger’s viewpoint we’ve always liked better than the 737, with fuselage dimensions dating to the 1950s. The A320 is more comfortable.

We’ve also been in the BBD interior mockup and the seats and aisle are better than those in the A320. (Boeing’s new Sky Interior look has Airbus and BBD beat by a long shot, though.)

BBD is in a niche market (100-149 seats), no question, and for every sale, it’s one most likely taken from Airbus (Boeing seems less protective of the 737-700 than Airbus is of the A319). Airbus stands to lose a lot of cash flow as BBD increases its sales.

In the AirInsight study on the CSeries last December, the biggest threat to BBD was not the neo program, we concluded. As noted, we believe the CSeries has better economics. The threat is the pricing power of Airbus and Boeing and the ability to cut “global” deals that BBD can’t match. This has nothing to do with the “business case.” This is all about market share.

BBD has a 21st Century airplane. The A319 is a plane designed in the 1980s that has a 21st Century engine. Competing against the 737NG, a 1990s airplane with a solid 20th Century engine that has been routinely updated, sales have proved this business case works.

But to say the CSeries should be redesigned or canceled is pure hyperbole. BBD should add a larger CS500. But for now its plate is full.

© 2011, Addison Schonland. All rights reserved.

One Response to Airbus vs “B”–and it’s not Boeing

  • Apparently Airbus has been incentivising potential customers (i.e. Repbulic) to “select” the A319neo, while allowing a switch to the A320neo at a later date.

    This might give the impression that A319neo is winning orders and can compete with CSeries, despite having to contend with a 12k lb weight penalty (equivalent to 50 pax).

    It seems John Leahy is deploying all methods at his disposal, perhaps underlining the pressure he is feeling at the smaller end of the A320 family.

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