Airbus 380

Taking your lead bloggers ! Airbus it is - thank you for your speedy reaction Boris's thinking reaches stratospheric heights in his DT column today:
This is not a bus, or even a tram or a train or ship. It is an Airvillage. Already Richard Branson is planning to fill his 380s with casinos and gyms and coffee parlours
Read on ... European dream and American reality Incroyable! Unglaublich! What a triumph for the European dream. What a stunning rebuke to all of us Euro-sceptics, with our acned teenage insistence on the dogma of the free market. In less than two months, the first of our runways will rumble to the thunder of the new plane's payload, 40 per cent heavier than that of a 747. In a couple of years, they will be circling in midge-like cones over Heathrow, except that they won't be midges so much as aerial whales, Moby Dicks of the sky, each capable of taking 555 passengers, rising to 800 or even 1,000 as new models come on stream. In a decade, they say, the Earth will be cats-cradled with their vapour, as air travel passenger numbers triple in response to the inflated capacity of their bellies, holding 30 per cent more seats than a jumbo. For a generation, the technocratic elites of France and Germany have dreamt of taking on that mighty Boeing, a plane that emerged in the 1960s and came to symbolise the easy commercial dominance of America; for years, the filing cabinets at Airbus in Toulouse have contained secret folders saying "avion tres grand de l'avenir" or "superkolossalluftwagen"; and here it is, at last, the Airbus 380. Airbus - did someone say "bus"? Bus is too modest a vehicular analogy. This is not a bus, or even a tram or a train or ship. It is an Airvillage. Already Richard Branson is planning to fill his 380s with casinos and gyms and coffee parlours and double beds - nudge, nudge - and I predict that this plane is just the prelude to a new age of stratospheric gigantism, comparable to the emulation between the great ocean liners of the 1920s. It won't be long before Branson will be offering orchestras and swimming pools and deck quoits, and they'll be staging Aida complete with elephants in the Upper Class lounge. And it will Europe that launched this tin Zeppelin, Europe that showed the way. Admittedly, the 380 has yet to prove that it can actually fly, and I seem to remember that some other Airbus models had quite a high prang rate, something to do with the fly-by-wire system being not quite right, but Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder are certainly entitled to gloat. The German Chancellor gave a figurative two-fingered salute to Donald Rumsfeld, when he boasted that the 380 was above all a victory for "Old Europe"; and as I say, we Euro-sceptics, we who deplore state subsidy, must take it on the chin. When I joined this paper 17 years ago as a leader writer, there was barely a week in which the late Lord (Jock) Bruce Gardyne, our economics expert, failed to offer an editorial attacking Airbus. It was a scandal, he said, that so much taxpayers' money was being forced down the gullets of these flightless Toulouse turkeys. How, he demanded, could you expect a plane to be a commercial success, when it was assembled from parts all over Europe, the fuselage from France, the wheels from Spain, the wings from Britain, and so on. It was all political, he argued; it was putting the political imperative of European integration above good business sense, and we should have nothing to do with it. Well, the best we can say for Jock's editorials on Airbus was that they were right in principle. A huge amount of British government money was pumped into Airbus over the years, and the 380 alone has attracted £500 million of subsidy. Boeing, by contrast, was able for decades to be the dominant force in air passenger travel, without a cent of direct state subsidy. And yet we must look at the world as it is, and not at some idealised universe of Thatcherite economics. It may not have been an entirely fair fight, but Airbus is now beating Boeing, not least because of serious errors of strategy in Seattle. This derided European consortium is now, on the face of it, a triumphant success, a success for state subsidy, and for the 400 British firms that will supply more than 50 per cent of the 380's components, including the wings, landing gear and engines. While Boeing's new 747-400 has won only a few orders, 14 airlines have already signed up for the gyms and double beds of the Airbus 380; and the political significance of this will not be understated in Brussels, Berlin and Paris. It is no longer the Americans who will provide the essential tools of globalisation; it is no longer an American machine that will claim pride of place in the aviation section of the Guinness Book of Records. And as the people of Hounslow - and South Oxfordshire - prepare for this vast shadow to pass above them, they may wonder why Europe cannot rival America in other ways. If the EU can build the biggest commercial planes, and dominate the skies, why is America still the military master of the planet? The answer, of course, is that aeronautical success is no clue to political and military clout. The Russians had enormous Antonovs and Tupolevs, and where are they now? If Europe really wants to be a superpower, and if Chirac and Schröder really want to cock a snook at America, they must do something that no European government is prepared to do, and spend vastly more on defence. Everyone complains about American management of this unipolar world, and, as one looks at some of the Pentagon's recent miscalculations, such as post-war Iraq, one can see why. But at present the Americans can and must make all the relevant decisions, because it spends easily more than twice as much as all 25 EU countries on defence, and that is with the dollar at a deep low. If Europe wants the kind of political influence that goes with supplying the world's fattest aircraft, it will have to do more than out-subsidise Boeing. Europe will have to build the choppers and the fighters that go with world leadership, and there is no sign of that whatsoever. The most that can be said is that Americans will buy the Airbus 380s to ferry their troops around the world.

20 thoughts on “Airbus 380”

  1. Oh Boris, what a let down the simplistic sentence “Boeing, by contrast, was able for decades to be the dominant force in air passenger travel, without a cent of direct state subsidy.” was.

    You are so very careful with that word “direct”, and you do your readers an injustice by the attempt to paint Boeing as a capitalist icon with Airbus the product of European, socialist, subsidised production.

    Certainly the US government have never directly said to Boeing “Here have a subsidy”, after all the WTO would land on them like an Antonov which has ran out of fuel, but lets look at the indirect monies.

    There are

    * The $3.2 billon subsidy (the largest ever subsidy granted by a US government body to a private company , cleared worded as mostly a production subsidy on every aeroplane built, not just the rival to the A380) and tax breaks given by Washington state.
    * Washington state aid to help pay unemployment and placing people displaced by Boeing redundancies
    * The non-competitive bid contracts from both the US military for military version of commercial airlines and from NASA.

    This brings indirect aid from the US government bodies to around $23 billion.

    We’re not even factoring in Japanese government subsidies and loans give to Boeing so they would favour Japanese parts suppliers for aircraft parts Japan has little to no experience in building.

    You fail to point out that the EU monies to Airbus for the development of the A380 were mainly loans. This loan arrangement includes, I believe, government ownership of certain patents. Airbus must then license and pay for use of these patents for a period far longer than their development loan repayments.

    Your snide conclusion that Airbus has managed this not through a free market economy but by gathering more government hand outs than Boeing is naive at best or disingenuous blatant anti-European political engineering at worse.

  2. Does anyone remember Westland ? Wasn’t that an attempt by Europe to manufacture a chopper suitable for the military, an idea that was abandoned, to be replaced by making a licenced version of an American machine ?

    Would we, the taxpayer, want to shoulder the R&D burden and if we did, would the US see Europe as a threat ? They haven’t liked it when Europe has suggested it’s own military ideas so a massive investment in the arms industry would certainly scare the neo-cons.

  3. Boris should remember Westland, it was the issue that his predecessor in the Henley on Thames seat resigned from the cabinet over; 19 year ago this month.

    Of course we’re (where we is Europe) are doing the same with the EuroFighter. That’s not so much seen as a threat, but rather as a laugh.

  4. “If the EU can build the biggest commercial planes, and dominate the skies, why is America still the military master of the planet?”

    Sorry, probably being a bit slow here, but what has that got to do with the price of fish?

    You might just as logically ask, “If the EU can build the biggest commercial planes, and dominate the skies, why has Australia got the most marsupials on the planet?”

  5. Westland is a UK company, rather than European, Aerospatial collaborations notwithstanding. The most recent European attack helicopter was built by the Eurocopter consortium, which is a mostly Franco-German company. Westland have also improved the Apache and have been competing for contracts in SE Asia and South Africa against the Eurocopter and others, but I don’t remember the results.

    Eurofighter meanwhile might well be a financial joke, but it’s a very capable aircraft. If the project had been better managed (most of the mismanagement due to the political machinations over the workshare) and if the ex German finance minister hadn’t kept dithering, it would be a cheaper aircraft, and it would have been in active front line service ages ago.

  6. Having just spent 10 and a half hours on a plane, anything that would relieve the tedium and bum-ache would be welcome.It would be great to be able to stroll around and have a decaf soya milk coffee at a Starbucks, or have my hair done. Can’t see me using a gym though…..

  7. Air travel could be useful – an eighteen year could hurry back in time for the “rites de passage” –

    http://www.anthrobase.com/Dic/eng/pers/gennep_arnold_van.htm

    – that fussy Auntie Mactaggart is dreaming up for him. Perhaps there’ll be a fine if he doesn’t arrive on time. I suppose it must be regarded as a kind of secular “confirmation” ceremony – one is reminded of the “civic religion” of Rousseau, and the attempts to make that a reality in France during the Jacobin period:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror

    As the Daily Telegraph commented:

    “This is the proposal of a power-crazed government that has been in office for too long”

  8. “…Eurofighter meanwhile might well be a financial joke, but it’s a very capable aircraft.”

    How about the “can’t afford a gun, so take it out, oops the airframe’s now unbalanced, fill the empty gun space with concrete instead” farce?

    Or am I misremembering?

  9. IIRC this was the US troop-carrying plane of choice last time I went to an airshow, at least:

    http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/types/usa/boeing/c-17/c-17.htm

    It doesn’t look like it should be able to fly at all, but it can, and land on an amazingly short strip of land. Inside it is massive, echoing space. It can easily swallow a couple of HGVs or several troop carriers. It was, frankly, an alarming place to be even on the ground. I can’t imagine it in the air.

    Will the new airbuses actually afford leg room to those of us who fly ‘cattle class,’ as they’ve all that space to play with, or will they just pack in MORE of us?

  10. Barry is right to point out that Boeing is not free market. Good. But then he says:

    >Your snide conclusion that Airbus has managed this not through a free market economy but by gathering more government hand outs than Boeing is naive at best or disingenuous blatant anti-European political engineering at worse.

    But it isn’t a free-market product! Whether or not it got more government subsidies than Boeing or less is another issue. But it was still underwritten by the EU. So why are you getting so snippy?

    >You fail to point out that the EU monies to Airbus for the development of the A380 were mainly loans.

    According to EU Referendum, these loans don’t have to be paid back if it fails. So now who’s giving a misleading impression?

  11. Bradley, I have to admit I was unaware of the EU referendum, I’ll take your word for it that it happened.

    I was getting snippy because Boris was trying to paint Boeing as the model of free market economies in an attempt to justify a viewpoint that all subsidies are bad or as a stick to beat the EU with. Neither of these conclusions are honest or fair.

  12. According to a pilot, there are several concerns with the Airbus (which may also explain why Boeing wasn’t interested in building anything similar):
    1) Only 2 or 3 airports in the US can currently accommodate it for landing, between the runway and terminal problems. It’s the wingspan apparently. It will cost millions to adapt the airports, and in the US that would be paid for by the airlines (which are currently in financial straits).
    2) The above is a very serious problem if the plane has to be diverted. Where could it go?
    3) No US airport terminal is set up for the two-level load and unload design – more expense.
    4) Emergency evacuation requirements remain two minutes for an entire plane. Not likely for the Airbus.

    The Airbus was designed for the Asian market, and that may well be the only place it flies to. That’s why it’s being called a “big plane for a small market.”

  13. And will the Bloggers get an acknowledgement in the column next time too? Just think of the New Media kudos you’ll receive Boris!

  14. Boris, that column kicks butt! Nice one.
    I didnt even like the Airbus until I read that, now I’d head off and buy shares. Anything to get one over on the yanks.

  15. Simon – you don’t misremember. The gun has been replaced by an identical piece of steel that looks like the gun, weighs the same as the gun, has the same inertia as the gun, but doesn’t fire. Another triumph of politics over engineering sense. It is still a better aircraft than the Rafale, though. Boeing’s F-22 also doesn’t have a gun (for different reasons).

    Tom – IIRC the A380 has a staircase in the middle at the front, unless that’s changed since I did a project on a 600 seat aircraft concept with Airbus in 2002. The load/unload would then be through either one door at the front, which takes ages but works, or through two doors at the front, which requires a modified airbridge, or through 4 doors at the front which requires 2 modified airbridges. As far as I can see from the Airbus website there’s no door at the front on the upper deck, so I assume the plan is still to get people to use the stairs.

    As far as evacuation is concerned, the requirement is 90s, and Airbus will by now have proved that they can do this using a mockup fuselage. Since there are multiple doors on both levels, evacuating the A380 is no different to any other aircraft, it’s a simple question of a certain number of passengers per door. The internal layout per deck is the same as a 747 downstairs and an A340 upstairs, so the problem is well understood.

    For diversion, it will be able to land anywhere a 747 can land, provided they get everyone else out of the way. The problem will be that it can’t taxi, so they’ll have trouble taking off again. The landing issue, where it occurs, is only for regular flights, where taxiways have to be moved further from the runway. For an emergency landing the taxiways could be cleared of traffic, making safe landing possible. And the US airlines may not have to pay for modifications to airports if other international airlines want to fly there, for example Virgin who are very keen.

    I’ve met some of the engineers working on the A380 and they’re very professional guys who have 40 years of experience of designing passenger aircraft. If they say it will work, I am in no doubt, and just because making progress isn’t simple and straightforward doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

  16. Boeing have said they will concentrate on medium-sized, fuel efficient planes that will enable people to travel directly to their chosen destinations. Bravo!

    I want to fly from Edinburgh direct to Poznan or Palermo (or wherever). Nobody in Scotland wants to fly down to Heathrow on a small plane, transfer onto an A380 going to Frankfurt, and then take another plane (or two) on to wherever they are going.

Comments are closed.