8 September 1998

Boeing down, not out

Boeing chose the Farnborough Air show yesterday to eat humble pie. Harry Stonecipher, its president, chief operating officer and corporate No 2, admitted letting its customers down. The grins across the airfield were those on the faces of the Airbus executives.

They should not bask for too long. Boeing remains the world's biggest civil aircraft manufacturer, with defence backing up from behind, and now that it is no longer in denial it is taking action to improve performance. One senior executive has gone, and Mr Stonecipher's boss was lucky to survive. Losing the BA order hurt, whatever gloss is now being put on the defeat. The Boeing men cannot believe that Airbus will make money (we'll probably never know) but then they would say that.

The Airbus consortium is edging towards some sort of "single corporate entity" but we are still some way from meaningful accounts, and tomorrow's plans look as wacky as ever. The current one, a rival to Boeing's 747, looks more like an attempt to say "we've got one too" than a serious commercial prospect. Further off into the stratosphere is the Future Large (cargo) Aircraft, which would surely destroy any chance of proper profits for another decade.