An alternative future for both Airbus and Boeing ended on 14 December 2005 when Qantas ordered a total of 115 Boeing 787 Dreamliners including 50 options or rights to purchase.
Admittedly, no-one could have imagined that just over seven years later, Qantas wouldn’t have any 787s on firm order, that Jetstar didn’t have its first, and that its first half FY13 results would have been rescued by $125 million more in compensation from Boeing.
But back then, on that fateful day, Airbus had to face up to the need to withdraw its initial version of the A350, essentially a substantial but largely metal alloy revision with better engines of its A330 family, leading to the switch to the A350XWB project replacing it the following year.
Had Airbus won the Qantas order, this first version of the A350 would have been built, and been in service by 2010, and given the delays that beset the 787, sold like cold beers in Darwin in December, although at the expense of the early termination of the A330s, which are still selling like …..
Qantas would have been transformed, for the better, in exactly the way it would have been had the Dreamliners been delivered to specifications by then, setting in motion big reductions in its fuel costs, opening new routes, and moving into replacement programs for its older jets, some of which, especially the 767s, are being retained at the cost of substantial operational inefficiencies, for who knows how long really.
But it would have tough for Airbus, which by early 2006 was being harangued by the largest airlines and leasing companies on the planet that it must go ‘plastic fantastic’ to be competitive with the 787, extolled in the Qantas press release below:
And that was before the truth about the stuff up with the production A380 computer drawings of its wiring systems escaped into the wider world, meaning that without the A350XWB to make it look relevant by the standards of 2006, Airbus would have been one sorry, sorry European consortium, and possibly stayed that way until signs that all was not well with the Dreamliner began to make the A350 look not all that bad after all.
However this is where the consequences for both Airbus and Boeing of an original A350 entering service in 2010 bring each to all sorts of possible crossroads.
Boeing would have been given a powerful incentive to bring the 777-X developments as far forward as it could achieve in conjunction with the engine options, not that there is much wrong with the GE engines on the existing line. That would have been a very powerful defense against the larger versions of the A350, but just as the A350 would have ended the A330 story, the 777-Xs would have been seen as inhibiting the 787 program, especially as by 2010 it was in deep manure. The A350s would have enjoyed a few years in the sun before the 777-Xs came along say about now, meaning Airbus might have tried to do an exclusive with Pratt & Whitney for a GTF re-engined A350. Or anything, since anything would have been possible.
However the Europeans might have also then tried to ace the 777-X factors with an A370, a more advanced and later version of the yet to arrive A350XWBs. There might have been ten times as many lawyers arguing WTO protection cases.
One thing is certain, whatever the future that Qantas would have triggered by forcing Airbus to build the original A350 it would have been ….. more exciting ….. and there would have been more new types of airliners in service or about to debut.
Qantas would have been more exciting. Certainly more profitable. Certainly less likely to enter into business partnership with other carriers in which it gives away too much for next to nothing, although that it not to predict it mightn’t have brokered a different deal with Emirates. Or Singapore Airlines.
A stronger Qantas would have drastically changed the outlook for its domestic competition. Not much has to change to leverage much larger changes within an industry, and the failure of the 787s to perform as expected in terms of fleet renewals and network strategy can be seen as sending Qantas into a different and darker place than any of us could have imagined back on 14 December 2005.
Here is a second extract from the archived media release of that momentous but ill-starred day.