In the neck-and-neck race for dominance in commercial aircraft, bad news for Airbus is usually good news for Boeing. The question is how...

Share story

In the neck-and-neck race for dominance in commercial aircraft, bad news for Airbus is usually good news for Boeing. The question is how bad and how good.

Yesterday, when European jet maker Airbus confirmed that deliveries of its new A380 superjumbo passenger jet will be two to six months late, some analysts called it a hiccup that probably won’t hurt the company — or help its U.S. rival — that much.

Others wondered if the delay might be a sign of underlying problems that could threaten the future of the world’s largest plane.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“I think the biggest concern of all … is that this might not be due to flight-testing delays or paperwork. It might be due to a need to meet performance specifications. In other words, they might have to be looking at design aspects of this plane,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

Airbus spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn said delays of this kind are “relatively typical” with new airplanes. “A couple of months in the grand scheme of things is really nothing in terms of scheduling,” Greczyn said.

In late April, Airbus warned Singapore Airlines it would receive its A380s late next year instead of in March. Since then, other airlines said they were expecting late deliveries, too.

Airbus has not said what’s causing the delays. Australia’s Qantas Airways said “manufacturing issues” are to blame.

If those “issues” mean Airbus is struggling to meet the design specifications it promised airlines, the Toulouse, France-based jet manufacturer could be headed for some serious turbulence.

“It increases the chances that the A380 was oversold in terms of economics and technology, and that is a boon for Boeing and the 747,” Aboulafia said.

Greczyn scoffed at the suggestion that Airbus might be struggling to keep its promises.

“There is no doubt that we will meet the performance specs we promised our customers,” she said. “That’s not a concern.”

Without discussing exactly what prompted the delay, Greczyn said staying on schedule depends not only on Airbus’ production process but also on design requirements from each airline, and a global supply chain.

Boeing’s 747, the largest commercial jet in service today, seats about 420 passengers in the standard three-class configuration or 525 in two classes. The A380 will fly 555 passengers in three classes, or 840 if everyone jams into one class.

Boeing is thinking about building a slightly larger and more fuel-efficient version of the 747. The company has said it will decide by the end of the summer whether to offer the 747 Advanced, which would seat about 30 more people than the existing 747.

Peter Jacobs, an analyst with Ragen MacKenzie, said he doesn’t see the A380 delay having any impact on Boeing’s decision about the 747 Advanced, because that plane probably wouldn’t enter service until 2009.

“If there are further delays in the A380 or major problems come up with it during flight testing, it could sway the competitive landscape somewhat, but that’s highly unlikely,” Jacobs said.

In general, Jacobs said he thinks a setback like this one isn’t a huge deal — or a surprise.

“When you’re breaking new ground, which Airbus is with this large airplane, these kinds of things happen,” he said.

Scott Hamilton, an aerospace consultant with Leeham Cos., agreed, noting that Boeing was a bit late delivering its first 747-400s in 1989.

“Certainly for the airlines, it’s a major inconvenience,” Hamilton said. “And certainly for Airbus, they’re going to have to pay penalties.”

But Hamilton said he doesn’t think the delay will cost Airbus any customer loyalty.

“The airlines that have already ordered the A380 are almost certainly going to stick with the A380 unless something humongous happens to the program,” he said.