For years, Airbus and Boeing have split the market for big passenger jets. But a series of shifts in the sector could start to eat away that dominance, leading to big changes in the commercial aircraft industry. The prospect of increased competition is already forcing the two large companies to consider making costly changes to their most popular models. Airbus executives were expected to meet this week to discuss upgrade options for the top-selling A320 family, though they said a decision wasn't expected to be made right away. Boeing will decide in the next few months whether to embark on a revamp of its 737 single-aisle jetliner line. So why would these top-tier manufacturers have to make sudden changes?
The bottom line is customers want more energy and fuel efficiency. Airlines are looking at ways to cut costs as fuel prices are so volatile it has been hard to plan for costs and profits. In the struggle to come out on top, manufacturers have begun to focus on the research and development of products which are more energy efficient and more eco-friendly, such as reduced emissions engines. A company that these customers are now looking at is Bombardier, which has historically built smaller planes and so was never in the sights of Boeing or Airbus. But the Montreal-based company says that the new 150-seat jetliner it is developing, the CSeries, will deliver a 15% improvement in fuel consumption over current 737s or A320s. Airlines are also looking at the Brazilian company Embraer.
Boeing has spent billions of dollars developing its new long-range 787 Dreamliner. But the project is three years late and far over budget. It's also behind on its revamped 747 widebody jet, long its most iconic product. Airbus is in a similar predicament: Its A380 superjumbo and A400M military airlifter are in the red and behind schedule. Both had hoped to hold off at least a decade before replacing their single-aisle models with entirely new planes. Creating new planes would bring planes that demand less fuel and fly longer between expensive maintenance overhauls. But it would take several years and cost billions of dollars more. These aren't quick or easy changes.
Instead of redesigning the planes entirely, Airbus and Boeing are likely to put new, more fuel-efficient engines on their existing planes, an option known as re-engining. There are also many new and exciting ways to cut energy costs as a whole, such as installing solar parabolic troughs made of reflective aluminum into an airplane's wing box. Overall as an industry, there is one thing that both the bigger and smaller companies can rejoice in. This sector is positioned for growth as air travel worldwide is expected to see double the number of passengers currently in the skies by 2025.