Big Aviation is still a game of two players
And one of them, Airbus, is celebrating its birthday.
Years ago, three major players were sharing the market but, once McDonnell Douglas disappeared, big planes were made by one of them. Of course, we should not forget Antonov, whose 225 model is still the biggest plane in the world, some huge Tupolev and Lockheed Tristar but the first ones never went out of their home markets while Lockheed Tristar could be seen as a failed experiment from the manufacturer.
Airbus emphasizes its milestones in the timeline but, behind these, there is a flow marked by efficiency through I.T. use.
Airbus was the first civilian planes manufacturer having a big plane with a cockpit for only two people (A-310) and Airbus was the first civilian plane manufacturer to introduce widely fly-by-wire technology (the only previous exception was the Concorde). Finally, Airbus introduced the commonality concept allowing pilots from a model to switch very fast to a different model keeping the rating for both.
Boeing had a more conservative position: B757 and B767 appeared with only two people in the cockpit after being redesigned to compete with A-310. Despite the higher experience of Boeing in military aviation and, hence, in fly-by-wire technology, Boeing deferred for a long time the decision to include it in civilian planes and, finally, where Boeing lost the efficiency battle was when it appeared with a portfolio whose products were mainly unrelated while Airbus was immerse in its commonality model.
The only point where Boeing arrived before was in the use of twin planes for transoceanic flights through the ETOPS policy. Paradoxically the ones in the worst position were the two American companies that were manufacturing three engine planes, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed instead of Airbus. That was the exception because, usually, Boeing was behind in the efficiency field.
Probably -and this is my personal bet- they try to build a family starting with B787. This plane should be for Boeing the A320 equivalent, that is, the starter of a new generation sharing many features.
As a proof of that more conservative position, Boeing kept some feedbacks that Airbus simply removed like, for instance, the feeling of the flight controls or the feedback from autopilot to throttle levers. Nobody questionned if this should be made and it was offered as a commercial advantage instead of a safety feature since it was not compulsory…actually, the differences among both manufacturers -accepted by the regulators as features independent of safety- have been in the root of some events
Little-size Aviation is much more crowded and, right now, we have two new incomers from Russia and China (Sukhoi and Comac) including the possibility of an agreement among them to fight for the big planes market.
Anyway, that is still in the future. Big Aviation is still a game of two contenders and every single step in that game has been driven by efficiency. Some of us would like understability -in normal and abnormal conditions- to be among the priorities in future designs, whatever they come from the present contenders or from any newcomer.
Published in my Linkedin profile