Boeing Versus Airbus
In today’s marketplace, distinct differences in the way competitive products work have become increasingly rare. But functional product differentiation is exactly what the rivalry between the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is all about: Two companies with fundamentally different products, based on diametrically opposite visions of the future, engaged in a Hatfields versus McCoys battle with billions of dollars at stake.
Each company has made a series of big bets.
The Airbus A380 super-jumbo is a plane for the annals of aviation history. When it goes into service later this year, it will be the biggest, baddest airliner around, capable of ferrying from 550 to 800 passengers (depending on configuration). With its two full-length decks and the promise of amenities such as sleeper cabins, cocktail lounges and a gym, it is sure to capture the public’s imagination.
But for all its promise of innovation, the A380 represents a bet-the-house wager on one of the most disliked same-old models of air travel: the hub-and-spoke. The A380 is built around the assumption that airlines will continue to fly smaller planes on shorter routes (spokes) into a few large hubs, then onward to the next hub on giant airplanes. It also presumes that passengers will want to put up with the hassles of changing planes in exchange for the privilege of traveling in a jet-powered cruise liner.
Whether the A380 will live up to the hype remains very much to be seen. Passengers may become disenchanted with the plane if it turns out to be a freighter rather than a luxury liner. When airlines can choose between more seats and a gym, out goes the gym. Sound cynical? Not to those of us who fondly remember the upstairs first-class lounge in the early 747s.
Second, and even more importantly, Boeing’s 787 represents an appealing alternative. It’s based on a fundamentally different vision, and it is radically different by...
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