Chow mein, clocks, and "hmm"

Pop quiz. Which is the fastest-selling new commercial airplane program in history – the A350 or the 787 Dreamliner?

Recently we’ve heard claims that the A350 has taken the crown. But I’m just scratching my head about that because, in these kinds of cases, what really matters is when the two sides start their clocks.

In the case of the Boeing 787, we consider our formal launch to be April 2004, concurrent with our first orders from ANA. Using the same logic, you start the A350 clock when it was “formally launched” on October 6, 2005, along with its first orders (actually dating back to December 2004). So, clearly this Airbus product has a ways to go before exceeding the 787 at a comparable point in the program timeline.

But wait a minute. More than a year after the “formal launch,” Airbus started the clock over again. They announced on December 1, 2006 an “industrial go ahead” for the A350. So, which launch is which?


Has the A350 really been selling for only 2 years? Or has it actually been more than 3 years? If you compare the 787 orders timeline with the original A350 “formal launch” in 2005, clearly the 787 has done better.

If you do want to claim that the clock started in 2006 with the A350 “go ahead” - or re-start as I would call it - then yes, using that arbitrary date, you can claim a better result. However, remember that this 2006 re-start conveniently came loaded with a number of previous orders - which for the most part were converted to “new” orders.

Note that at the 2005 Paris Air Show, Airbus claimed it was already “sitting at 90” [A350 orders], and by late 2005 claimed well over 100 orders for the A350. So keep this in mind when you hear that this airplane did not launch until the end of 2006 and therefore is the “fastest-selling.”


My recent lunch bill came to exactly $7.77 at Panda Express.

Not to change the subject, but the other day I paid for my chow mein lunch at a local Chinese fast food place and the check came to exactly $7.77.

I thought to myself, “What an odd coincidence.” Which is to say, strange things do happen sometimes.

But I really got the urge to go “hmm” when I realized that my lunch bill came to exactly the same total as Airbus’ net orders for 2008: 777.

Admit it, don’t you think that’s, uh, interesting?

I got that urge again with regard to the Airbus backlog number at the end of 2008. On January 8, Boeing announced a backlog at the end of the year of 3,714 airplanes. One week later, Airbus announced a 2008 year-end backlog of exactly one unit more: 3,715.


To be fair, over the last few years, the competition has been a lot more transparent about numbers – posting net orders along with the gross - and removing orders from their books, for example, for the A310, an airplane that they no longer manufacture. So those are some good steps.

But it’s always a bit intriguing to see what’s being claimed from time to time. Coincidence? Clever marketing? Or maybe just “hmm.”

Comments (18)

P.Sumantri (France):

Why didn't you take some Yummy Chicken Soup?

Dan (France):

Randy, Randy... Those who live in glass houses, etc...! ;)

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Yes! That thing about the A350 (XWB - not really) being the fastest selling. Mmmm.. I guess what they where trying to get across is that they have over 400 orders for a plane that is years away from flight - and people in the flight business made a point of highlighting the 'speed' with which Airbus managed to do that.

And Airbus' net orders - 777, that's a good (great, wide, efficient, fast and on-time) target to beat.

Funny thing that - it was a single twin family against a family comprising a quad and a twin. Then, it was an unsuccessful quad against that same single twin family. And now the not-so XWB. Must be expensive to keep developing the wrong products (the quad).

I suppose you can throw your stone. But in the mean time there's a couple of people waiting for the other bird there, with over 900 orders before its first flight.

I think I'm surprised by the omission of VLA sales from the graph though - seeing that they're selling like hotcakes.

Dan (San Diego) (San Diego):

I miss the original Randy. I can't recall once where he went on such a pedantic anti-Airbus rant.

Neither airframe is shipping; the order rate is a reflection of the economy the past few years, and aggregate demand for new fuel-efficient planes .... irregardless of the manufacturer.

Why not impress us, and write a blog about the *good* things about the A350, or perhaps educate us on one of the more subtle points of the aviation industry, or let us know what you think of the smaller airframers moving into 737 territory, or some good story about the 787 design / design process / design tradeoffs or ....

So many good blog topics out there, why do you care about the launch date for the A350 (most of us reading probably do not). BTW: I bet if you count orders between rollout and first flight, the 787 will win handilly!


Thanks for the comments, Dan. And those are great ideas for future topics.

But also, do take some time and go through Mr. Baseler's blog archives. Randy was hardly shy about "contrasting" Boeing and Airbus' differing views on products and the market.

-- Randy Tinseth

Tyler Reilly (Boston, MA, USA):

That's all well and good, Mr. Tinseth. Now let's have her fly.

Kinbin (Taipei Taiwan):

The calories on the noodles, accompanied by spicy Kung-Pao chicken as well as semi-spiced Beijing beef, downed with presumably a diet coke (maybe diet Dr. Pepper), probably takes 2-3 hours of workout to undo. Not your daily routine, I hope.

With all due respect, Airbus continues to play second-fiddle to Boeing on the A350 paper plane. Doesn't the aviation outlook consider total numbers sold? It sure doesn't take the rate of sale into consideration. Why? Coz airlines plan on lift capacities and rate of deliveries, not rate of sales.

Now that they have sold the planes, they need to figure out where all the raw materials are gonna come from, besides getting the sub-contractors to build them, and the final body joins.

As long as Boeing keeps the supply chains tight, and lock up the know-how, Airbus is going to be having one hellofa roller coaster ride building the paper plane, let alone prepping it for flight test. Maybe their production leads ought to go to a Six-Flags outfit for some of the adrenalin-filled rides to learn a thing or two about hanging on and not flying off into the ground.

One thing is certain. Baking a plastic aircraft ain't the same as patching an aluminum equivalent.

Another notable trend is this. The national pride of 4 governments supercedes good business ethics.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

Airbus has nothing to worry about when it comes to the A350 and sales or scale but when it comes to the launching timeline and redesign timeline, something is up.

It seems to me that Airbus's redesign of the A350 from the A330 airframe to the A350 XWB airframe constitutes a new aircraft separate from the original design in which all the airlines that ordered the A350 in it's original form jumped to - that does not make sense, the redesign is new, but the the redesign came as a response to the current 787.

James (Honolulu):

Get the 787 into the air, get it in production... then trash Airbus for its paper airplane. Until then, it's all academic, isn't it?

Bob (Everett, WA):

If you put your house on the market and it sells the same day, maybe it was not priced right.

If the contest is to see who can fill the order-book quickest, then maybe we really do not need a viable product and supply-chain, just some wild ideas!

Let's try to get the plane in the air, then we can compare it to the competition.

John Moran (Bellevue, WA):

Neither number will mean much until they fly and get delivered. Before then, it all seems like so much posturing.

BTW, I heartily approve of your lunch choices. That's all I ever get from Panda.

Brian (St. Louis):

Randy...isn't it also odd that the new stimulus package was for $787 billion?

Lets get this airplane off the ground and get the economy back on track!

Jason Yuhara (Everett, WA):

Airbus...who cares. In my opinion, what is crucial is that Boeing lead the way with this plane by getting it into the air.

Not only will our business profile increase in value, it will also come at a time where fuel efficiency is an absolute need. Once we can begin pushing these planes forward Boeing will begin taking the lead in the economy as the provider of not only a plane, but results. Action speaks here much louder than words, perhaps the name AIRBUS suits the purpose for some, but not from where I stand. Committed to Boeing.

Aither (France):

It's easy to break sales records when the market you are targeting is/will be 3 times larger than 15 years ago...

Obama signed a $787 billion economic stimulus package ... "hmm"

Alexandar Win (Oakland, CA):

Has Boeing considered using the crown space in 747-8i for passenger luggage and free up space for more revenue cargo?

Kevin Kitura:

Correct me if I am wrong but it's never been about the number of airplanes in the order books. But rather it's been about the number airplanes that were delivered to customer who actually payed for the airplane. I am sure if Boeing wanted too they could fill their order books with virtual airlines too.

Here is a list of them, it comes in handy for paper airplanes. :-)

Steven (Kent, Washington):

VLAs are selling like hotcakes? If you're referring to A380s, their sales have been stagnant for the last 2 years.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Alexandar Win: Overhead crown space.

I think using that space for a mix of galleys and storage space beat the sky suites option. I believe weight was an issue. In any event, I'd say it would be a continuation of wasted real estate if they didn't use it for galleys or storage. On the 747, it's a pretty big space. On the A340, it's nill and on the A380 it will turn into cattle class - no, on the A380, it looks like a pretty volumous space, but again little cargo deck space saving ability.


Pardon the joke, it's probably in poor taste. What I meant is just that: "sales have been stagnant for the last 2 years." Despite this, average annual sales for the 747-8 over the three years since its launch are somewhere in the low 40's - if you ignore the fact that it was launched in mid-November 2005. But just to be right, the 747-8's sales are slightly higher than average for the 747 over its life so far.

With the A380, it's something like 22.2 or 23.3 over the past 8 years since its launch in a late December 747 type "If you can build it, I'll buy it - and, If you buy it, I'll..." atmosphere in 2000 - if you ignore the fact that it has neither 200 orders - nor 210. But just to be fair, airlines still like the 747-400 - what other 15-to-20-year old is as popular? And the A380 is having a really nice pampered - and well recieved - entry into service - and that can only mean Airbus is doing a pretty good job chasing them around the world and fixing the odd problems.

We'll see what happens with 747-400 replacement as that cylce approaches soon - and the second wave around 2015. It looks like the 777-300ER has got the first wave down. The second wave is increasing with the A350-1000. I'm not so sure if airlines will be rushing to purchase advanced 10-year olds, so the A380 will need a minor upgrade.


Do these huge order numbers also mean huge risks of payments for being very very late for Boeing?

As far as I remember Airbus had to pay a lot for the A-380 and this plane had lower order numbers than the 787 and at least they got it into the air quite "early".

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