More than the boom-bust nature of the commercial airplane business, China threatens the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
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The comeback at Boeing in its competition with Airbus the past couple of years has been as dramatic as any I've seen in 35 years writing about Pacific Northwest business. It is actually fun writing about Boeing again.
We can be forgiven a bit of schadenfreude – guilty pleasure at the misfortune of others – as Airbus stumbles from one public-relations disaster to another.
Aerospace employment in Washington, which fell by almost half from mid-1998 to mid-2004, has risen since at rate of about 500 a month. The head count at Boeing and suppliers in Washington today is about 25 percent higher than at the cyclical low 33 months ago. Boeing's changed business model – more "buy" and less "make," especially on the new 787 – means Boeing head count won't go back over 100,000 as in the past three or four boom-bust cycles. But hiring should continue at a good clip for at least another year or two as production ramps from the cyclical low of 281 jets in 2003 to next year's 520.
Boeing's backlog bulges with nearly 2,500 unfilled jetliner orders. Boeing's relatively small but fuel-efficient 787, scheduled for roll out July 8 (yes, on 7-8-7, naturally) and with first deliveries in mid-2008, is sold out through 2012.
Boeing obviously made the right bet when it opted for the smaller and more flexible jet instead of a super jumbo like the Airbus A380. Only about a dozen airports will be able to accommodate the 555-seat Airbus giant when it begins flying commercially next year. It has far fewer orders, about 150, than Airbus expected. Some orders have been cancelled because deliveries are so far behind schedule.