Prize flight

2 min read

I suppose if you’re going to buy a private jet you might as well get a big one. That was clearly the view of the mystery customer at this week’s Paris Air Show who ordered an A380 ‘Superjumbo’ for personal use.

Whether one of the world’s billionaires is having a mid-life crisis remains unclear, but buying the world’s biggest passenger aircraft to ferry the family around is certainly a powerful statement of one-upmanship to the neighbours with their miserable little 50-seaters.

Whatever the destination of this particular A380, the turbulence seems to have abated slightly for its manufacturer Airbus, judging by the more optimistic noises coming out of the European plane-maker during the Paris event and backed up by stronger than expected orders for its aircraft.

Airbus has spent the last year in a prolonged period of introspection, attempting to sort out a series of internal problems that saw it plunge into the red and delayed delivery of the A380.

Things must be getting better because Airbus has stopped apologising and started complaining again, this time about the strength of the euro, which chief executive Louis Gallois warned could force it to look to dollar-zone regions for more of its supplies.

Airbus also wants more financial support for its R&D activities from the nations of Europe, claiming that it is currently at a disadvantage to Boeing in terms of the level of subsidy received.

So that’s not much then. Just the devaluation of a currency and a few hundred million more in taxpayer’s money. Of course, Airbus is well aware that Europe’s bankers are highly unlikely to start driving the euro down on its say-so, and that its governments will need some serious persuading before dipping any deeper into their pockets.

What Airbus is doing is reminding the people and governments of Europe that it, and the rest of the aerospace industry, matters one hell of a lot to the fortunes of this continent.

And it’s right. Aerospace is one of the areas where the UK, for example, can still claim a genuinely world-class position. The premium, highly skilled jobs the sector supports are in many respects the jewels in the crown of that element of the UK economy that used to be described as ‘British industry’.

It’s a position we can’t afford to take for granted. One of the more intriguing announcements to emerge from Paris was news of a link-up between Boeing and Abu Dhabi to establish an advanced aircraft materials research facility in the emirate.

Abu Dhabi said it wants to become a major supplier to Airbus and Boeing, and joins a growing list of nations with their eyes on that high-value aerospace work. It’s a big prize to gain, and an even bigger one to lose.

Andrew Lee, editor