Thursday, April 28, 2005

First Flight

Readers of this blog will quickly discover that I'm hardly a Europhile. Indeed there is much to dislike about the Western Europe of today, from their rampant anti-Americanism and abandonment of their Judeo-Christian roots, to their socialist approach to health care and economics.

But, in the interest of fairness, I'm willing to give our European friends some credit when they deserve it. And they deserve considerable credit for yesterday's successful first flight of the Airbus A380, the world's first "super-sized" jetliner. Capable of carrying more than 550 passengers, the A380 represents an 11-year, $13 billion gamble for the European consortium.
Airbus rival Boeing has elected not to develop a super jumbo jetliner, concentrating instead on smaller, 787 "Dreamliner."

Will Airbus's effort pay off? So far, it has orders for 154 A380s from such carriers as Air France, Lufthansa and Virgin (the first A380 will enter service next summer with Singapore Airlines on its trans-Pacific routes). Airbus needs at least 250 orders to break even on the project. Boeing, on the other hand, has 217 orders for the 787. With jet fuel prices soaring, some analysts believe the 787 makes more economic sense, carrying 250 passengers on long-haul routes now served by aircraft like the Boeing 747 and MD-11.

Which aircraft manufacturer made the right call? Only time will tell. But the sight of that huge jetliner climbing into the skies of France was impressive. But it's also worth noting that European governments put up about one-third of the A380's development costs. Without those subsidies, it's doubtful that the jetliner would have been built. Airbus believes the A380 will prove profitable, and that confidence is not misplaced. Now, Airbus needs to wean itself from government subsidies and compete on a level playing field with Boeing. Much has been made (in recent years) of Airbus gaining market share against its American rival. More impressive is Boeing's long history of developing and marketing new products, without underwriting from Washington.

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