Airbus sales supremo John Leahy presenting the A320 NEO earlier this year

The trenches around the battle lines between Airbus and Boeing have been dug, well, wider, by the European planemakers’ chief operating officer commercial John Leahy.

At a briefing in Toulouse today he said Airbus could match the higher density (read less legroom) being offered by Boeing in jam-them-in-tight versions of their respective airliners, but wouldn’t compromise on shoulder room by sticking to an extra inch or 2.5 cms width per seat no matter what.

Leahy said, “The way of the future is going to be in what we [as in Airbus and Boeing] do in economy …and we will always be wider than Boeing.”

He said that included any A380 that is ordered with 11 across seat in economy versus a ten across Boeing 777 of any model, as well as in high density versions of the A350 versus 777s, A330s versus 787s and A320 versus 737s whether with new tech engine versions or those already in the market.

The chief Airbus salesperson said “I told the CEO of one airline recently that I couldn’t fit into his 787 nine abreast economy seats and he said ‘You can, but you just can’t get out of it’.”

Leahy said that the adoption of higher density basic or discounted economy seats was likely to compliment the roll out of roomier premium economy products, which might actually see little overall change in total seat counts in wide body jets but lift the earnings per flight because of the higher net yields from the more spacious Y+ seats.

Kiran Rao, the Airbus executive president-strategy and marketing said Boeing had worked itself into a trap with the Dreamliner 787 by promoting it as a roomy eight across economy class jet but had to replace that by a very uncomfortable nine across format in order to deliver on its promised fuel and range promises.

A similar comfort advantage was claimed for 777 v A380 comparisons by Rao, who said it was all about the Boeing have to move to a less comfortable 10 abreast cabin from its previous spacious nine across format in order to stay in touch with the per seat kilometre economics of the big Airbus.

What Boeing has to say about this will be very interesting.

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