ATW Editor's Blog

Gone fishin’ at Farnborough

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This year’s Farnborough Airshow has turned into something of a fishing exercise by the airliner manufacturers as they dangle various “stretches” of new aircraft types in front of customers to see which bait is most popular.

Airbus and Boeing, especially, are clearly using their Farnborough chalets to gauge the interest of airline execs for potential larger variants of their newest aircraft. Airbus and Boeing chiefs have talked openly about the possibility of stretches that are being dubbed the A350-2000, 737 MAX stretch, and 777-10X; while Boeing confirmed it will add more seats to the MAX 7 after Southwest Airlines and Canadian low cost carrier WestJet put up their hands for more capacity on the re-engined narrowbody.

The message seems to be, if we can stretch it and you might buy it, then let’s talk business.

Boeing is also waving what it calls the “middle of the market” sector, trying to hook airlines on to what could lead to the development of a new aircraft if there is sufficient interest.

The question here is how big a fish is in that middle? Several airlines - including American Airlines and United Airlines – are pushing for a 757 replacement, a narrowbody that serves them well on transatlantic and long North American routes. So far, however, neither Airbus nor Boeing is willing to invest in an all-new direct replacement. Simply put, the 757 market alone is not big enough to justify the development costs of an all-new aircraft. But if Boeing can “expand” the 757 market customer base upwards, then maybe there’s an opportunity. That seems to be what this “middle market” fishing is about.

If discussions in the Farnborough chalets help clarify the sales potential for each of these various aircraft “stretches”, then it may be that at Paris next year we will see which fish, if any, goes to market.

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com

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