Boeing, Airbus make their cases at aerospace conference

  • By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, February 7, 2012 6:02pm

LYNNWOOD — Aerospace analysts, the Boeing Co. and Airbus all agree: The commercial aircraft market looks strong for years to come.

Where great minds diverge: Which jets win over more customers, and why?

More than 300 people attending an aerospace conference here Tuesday heard the rationales behind long-term market forecasts by Boeing and Airbus as well as analysts’ commentary on the jetliner market.

“Overall, this is an industry that’s in pretty good shape,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, told participants at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance’s event.

Aboulafia noted the resilience of the commercial-airplane market over the past few years, while other industries suffered through the global recession.

Airbus and Boeing predict the world’s airlines will need between 27,800 and 33,500 new jets over the next 20 years.

Simon Pickup, director of business operations for Airbus Americas, and Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, predictably pronounced their respective products better than their competitor’s.

Addressing the single-aisle market, Tinseth said that the Boeing 737-800 weighs about 10 percent less than the Airbus A320 competitor. Therefore, he said, Boeing’s single-aisle offering has better operating costs. The planned re-engined 737 MAX, Tinseth said, will save carriers about 7 percent in operating costs, compared to Airbus’ A320 new engine option, or A320neo.

Pickup noted that the A320neo already has 1,289 firm orders since the program launched in late 2010. The European company’s jet is competing against one originally designed in the 1960s, he said.

Similarly, Tinseth and Pickup took different positions on their companies’ widebody products.

Tinseth considers Boeing’s mostly composite 787 an ideal replacement for the 767 and said the Dreamliner could render the Airbus A330 program “obsolete.”

Tinseth also took aim at Airbus’ new A350 Extra Wide Body program, which could challenge versions of the Boeing 777 and 787.

“We’re in a good position with the 777 and 787,” Tinseth said.

Boeing is in discussions with customers to assess interest in an updated 777 or a larger 787, known as the 787-10.

Analyst Aboulafia thinks an upgraded 777 would do well. However, the analyst expressed skepticism about Boeing’s smaller 787 — the 787-8, and Airbus’s smaller A350XWB, or A350-800, saying the latter isn’t a valid aircraft.

Regardless of which jet maker is right, the demand for airplanes will create a good opportunity for aerospace suppliers in the Puget Sound region.

Bruce Burnett, director of procurement for Airbus Americas, said his company is looking to increase business with suppliers in the U.S. over the coming decade. Airbus did $12 billion in business in North America last year and intends to increase that to $20 billion by 2020.

John Byrne, Boeing vice president of commercial aircraft materials and structures, outlined a more demanding view of what the company will expect from suppliers going forward: high quality at an increased production pace, and at a lower price to Boeing.

“Boeing is buying the ability of a supplier to execute,” Byrne said. Boeing also is buying the capability of a supplier to “lower the cost” annually.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454, mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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