SuperJumbos In Number Conflict

The international stage of an airshow like Farnborough never fails to bring out both speculators and speculation. Talk today centered around who had the best numbers for SuperJumbo market projections.

Boeing sees a 20-year market of 470 of the 500+ seat airliners. McDonnell Douglas forecasts 540. Airbus Industrie believes demand will reach 1,380 aircraft. As with any new aircraft, no one really knows for sure, but virtually every industry observer agrees that the investment in a new aircraft in this range would be astronomical. Boeing saw a $12-$15 billion investment during their Very Large Commercial Transport study of a few years ago. Boeing thinks the non-recurring costs can be reduced to around $5 billion by developing a derivative of the successful 747 platform.

The question is, since not a single one of the three major commercial players has announced an official SuperJumbo development program, the numbers game will likely be a pawn in the game of steering boards of directors to approve the cost. Certainly Boeing's number of $5 billion is better than Airbus' suggestion of an $8 billion cost for the A3XX. But, if Airbus market projections are presented to the consortium's board with an $8 billion price tag, the return certainly looks handsome indeed. A 20% chunk of that market could justify the investment fairly handily, given a proposed aircraft price in the $200 million range. Boeing's numbers, however, look even better considering the Seattle company's near total dominance of the market for large aircraft. If Boeing captured 70% of a 470 plane SuperJumbo market, revenues would be $10 billion higher than Airbus' 20% of a 1,380 plane market.

McDonnell Douglas President and CEO Harry Stonecipher today indicated his company would not participate in an A3XX partnership. Certainly the MD-12 discussions of sometime ago might suggest that Douglas still entertains thoughts of their own program. Stonecipher, however, simply states that Douglas does not believe there is sufficient market to warrant the huge development costs. And, in comments at Farnborough today, Stonecipher ruled out any development of greater than 400 seat aircraft.

Boeing and Airbus may engage in a battle of the titans as each professes a commitment to the 500+ seat range class of aircraft. Airbus may announce the A3XX launch at the Paris Air Show next year. Boeing is actively courting customers. Eventually, someone will have to pay the bill. The only remaining question is the final amount.

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