Contest for the sky
It’s a Goliath versus Goliath story, except with aircraft. Bill Boeing built his first airplane factory at the turn of the 20th century in Seattle, Washington. The Boeings had made a fortune out of timber and it was because of timber that Seattle became the base for Boeing’s operations, since at that stage aircraft were mainly made out of wood.
Today the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, is housed in the largest building by volume on the planet. It covers an area of 39.8 hectares and has a volume of 13m cubic meters. That’s enough to house Disneyland in California and still leave 4.9 hectares for parking.
Today close on 12 000 planes in the sky are Boeings.
Between them Airbus and Boeing have built most of the large commercial aircraft dotting the skies, and it’s a remarkable story with many facets including how the new (European) kid on the block made inroads on the established American giant.
By the time Airbus entered the marketB in 1972, Boeing had a good 20-year headstart in commercial aviation. It had launched the first commercial jetliner the Boeing 707 in 1958, making the US the world’s premier commercial aircraft manufacturer. This was followed by arguably the world’s most popular plane, the 737, and in 1970 Boeing launched the intercontinental 747.
The playing field was still so skewed by 1991 (only 20 years ago) that Airbus delivered only 163 new aircraft and had a turnover of $7.5bn.
Boeing’s sales that year totalled $29bn, and the company delivered 435 commercial planes.
Ever since then it has been a humdinger of a battle and it now appears that Airbus is starting to nose ahead on points.
Linden Birns, Airbus’s spokesperson for sub-Saharan Africa, says by 2011, Airbus had outsold Boeing for the 9th time in the past 10 years on gross orders.
“In 2011, Airbus announced a total gross number of orders placed for 1608 aircraft for a total value of $169bn,” Birns says.
oeing received orders for 805 aircraft. In the past 10 years, between 2002 and 2011, Airbus received 7 181 orders and delivered 4 218 aircraft, while Boeing won 6 360 orders and delivered 3 871 aircraft in the same period, according to the companies’ published numbers.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONNECTION
Part of the Airbus success seems to have been the decision to involve other nations in the production process.
While Boeing has mostly remained proudly American, Airbus went the other route and gathered a number of countries as partners in its development and supply chain process. The European conglomerate now manufactures its aircraft in a variety of countries, including Spain, the UK, France and Germany.
South Africa is also an integral part of the Airbus global supply chain, and in 2010 Airbus entered into contracts worth R4bn with three South African component manufacturers.
Simon Ward, deputy head of international operations at Airbus, said just over R500m was for work related to the new A350 Airbus. The three companies, Aerosud, Cape Town-based Cobham Antenna Systems and Denel Aerostructures (DAe) were already involved in manufacturing components for Airbus aircraft such as the A400M macro airlifter.
Cobham Antenna Systems provides
Concept plane over New York