All Nippon Airways is preparing to announce a decision that could mark a turning point in the battle between Airbus and Boeing. The Japanese airline wants to buy 25 new planes worth an estimated $7 billion. It will choose between Boeing Co.’s 777X and Airbus SAS’s A350, both wide-body planes.
All Nippon’s president says a decision is near. A lot more is hanging on this than the price of the planes: The future of Boeing's near-monopoly in Japan is at stake. Boeing has built a web of relationships there, including suppliers, contractors and airlines, that has let the company maintain a near-monopoly for decades.
Michel Merluzeau is an analyst at an aerospace research firm called G2 Solutions. He says an Airbus victory would be "kind of a shock to the system. Airbus would be back with Japanese airlines operating wide-body aircraft."
It could happen. All Nippon was the first airline to fly the 787 Dreamliner, and it has the biggest flying fleet of that airplane. It was burned by the battery crisis that grounded the 787 earlier this year, and it is not clear how much that experience will influence the purchasing decision.
Then there’s timing. Unlike Boeing’s 777X, Airbus’ A350 has already had its maiden flight. Airbus’ plane is expected to be ready for All Nippon by 2017. Boeing has not built its first 777X yet, and it has not yet said where the plane will be built. The company is expected to decide among Everett, Japan and South Carolina.
Merluzeau says Boeing may not be ready to deliver 777Xs until 2019 or 2020. What isn't known is what weight All Nippon will give to timing in choosing which plane to buy.
All Nippon says it will choose the plane that matches its needs best. Boeing declined comment.