Boeing Co. (BA)’s four-decade-old 747 jumbo jet picked up a new fan base at the Paris Air Show as its latest version won customers and eclipsed the bungled appearance of Airbus SAS’s A380 flagship double-decker.
While Airbus draped the exhibition with billboards touting the world’s largest passenger aircraft as “Love at First Flight,” the plane’s initial rendezvous was with an airport building, which kissed a wingtip and forced a return to the factory for repairs.
It was a rare misstep at a show dominated by orders for Airbus’s A320neo single-aisle model. With the damaged A380 gone, Boeing’s 747-8 Intercontinental in red “sunrise” livery debuted among wide-body jets on display. Adding insult to injury, the 747 won 19 orders or commitments on the first two show days as Airbus came away empty-handed with the A380.
“Many of our customers have called and said ‘Can I please come and see your Intercontinental,’ and we love that because usually we’re knocking on their door,” Elizabeth Lund, the 747 program chief, said in an interview at the show yesterday. “We’ve gotten some great responses.”
Blue Danube Soundtrack
Airbus said the A380, which comes with a price tag of $375 million, brushed along a building and scraped off the outer part of the wing. A Korean Air Lines Co. A380, already painted in bright blue corporate livery, was put on flight display, soaring through the skies with the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss blaring over the Le Bourget exhibition fields.
The A380 has a wingspan of 262 feet (80 meters) and a 239- foot fuselage. It stands almost 80 feet from the ground to the top of its tail. The wings on the 747-8 passenger version span more than 224 feet, its fuselage is 250 feet long and its tail is 63.5 feet tall. It is Chicago-based Boeing’s costliest jet, with the freighter model listing for $319.3 million.
While Airbus’s top-selling A320neo has ruled the show, Boeing has led in twin-aisle jets, even without the jumbo. Boeing has announced 21 orders and commitments as Airbus won orders and commitments for 15 A330s. The Airbus A350, which enters service from 2013, hasn’t gotten any orders in Paris.
“There’s a strange contrast with the remarkable success of the A320Neo series,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Fairfax, Virginia-based aviation consultant Teal Group. “It’s almost as though Airbus really needs to prove a point about their A380 launch decision a decade ago.”
An Airbus spokesman, Rainer Ohler, said more orders may be in the offing, because the Paris exhibition runs through this weekend.
“Get ready for more A380 news before the end of the show,” he said. “We always save the best for last.”
The A380’s run-in with the structure wasn’t Airbus’s only mishap at the show. The A400M, Airbus’s military transport, couldn’t perform a daily flight routine because of a glitch in the gearbox. Airbus will get the damaged A380 back this week.
Nor was the Paris swipe the A380’s first collision. An Air France A380 struck a commuter plane’s tail at New York’s Kennedy airport in April, spinning the smaller jet around by 90 degrees. In 2007, an A380 carrying 150 passengers was delayed for more than four hours after hitting a terminal building in Thailand.
Airports have required modifications to accommodate the plane. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spent $180 million to improve airport runways and taxiways to create enough clearance for the A380 to maneuver safely on the ground.
Airbus is marketing the A380 as the largest, most fuel- efficient and smoothest ride among its peers, carrying as many as 800 passengers. Boeing had a monopoly on the jumbo market for decades with its 747, which took its maiden flight in 1969, the year Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
Boeing has since upgraded the 747 several times, stretching the iconic hump to accommodate more passengers on the upper deck and improving the aircraft’s performance. Deliveries exceed 1,400 so far, compared with 51 A380s handed over to customers since the aircraft’s debut 2007.
Neither program has been free on bungles. Airbus’s first delivery, to Singapore Airlines Ltd. (SIA), was years late, and the A380’s development was billions of euros over budget. Boeing is more than a year behind schedule on the 747 freighter, which is more popular, as well as the passenger version.
‘Kick the Tires’
“Certainly for us, having products here, where the customer can kick the tires, get a sense for the maturity and the timing, has been fun,” said Pat Shanahan, vice president and general manager of airplane programs at Boeing’s commercial unit. “We’ve got a stable full of thoroughbreds now, and we can show it off.”
Boeing has been more limited in the design choices available for the 747’s interior than Airbus on its A380, which can be feature enclosed cabins, showers and duty-free shops. The 747 has LED lighting with an optional “Disco Wave,” as Boeing calls it, that cycles through a rainbow of colors.
Executives at Boeing decided to capitalize on the decade of research done by architects and psychologists on the smaller 787 Dreamliner to add features to the 747-8 including more spacious ceilings and overhead bins.
Boeing has won orders for 50 Intercontinental versions from four airlines and eight VIP customers, along with a commitment for five from Air China Ltd. (601111), and for 78 freighters from six cargo carriers. Boeing began selling the freighter in late 2005 and the Intercontinental in December 2006.
Airbus suspended the A380 freighter program in 2007. The passenger version is being built at a rate of about 25 a year at the main Airbus production hub in Toulouse, France. That’s less than a month’s worth of output on the A320.
Airbus has 234 orders for the aircraft from 18 customers, among them an individual buyer. The planemaker is considering a stretched version that could carry close to 1,000 passengers, Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said yesterday.
“My every instinct says that A380 orders are coming, maybe at Paris, but just as likely at the Dubai Air Show in November,” said Sandy Morris, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland who recommends buying the shares of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.
“It’s only two years since the world went to hell in a hand basket,” damping airlines’ appetite for the plane, Morris said, recalling the global financial collapse of 2008. “Give the A380 time.”