Air Transport World

The plain vanilla plane: closer ... but not here yet: airframe manufacturers and airlines agree that aircraft need to be simpler, but finding common ground remains problematic.(Competition)

FIVE YEARS AGO, THE AIRLINE industry was buzzing with claims of 20% savings on aircraft purchasing by shrinking the multitude of options offered to and demanded by airlines when ordering aircraft. Today, with acquisition costs and airline yields moving in opposite directions, the need for standardization and simplification is more pressing than ever. Yet progress remains slow, and what has been achieved is being driven more by manufacturers eager to pare costs and complexity out of the production process than by airlines intent on cutting sticker prices.

Indeed, one of the most vexing problems for plane-builders is how to sell standardization when carriers are fighting a pitched battle for survival around product differentiation in seemingly the smallest items. Even in areas where options can offer little commercial advantage, airlines are loathe to cut back and manufacturers reluctant to force the issue. Add to that the variety of power bases built up over generations of justifying carriers' existence by endlessly evaluating a multitude of options and you have a significant challenge.

Airbus Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy, who leads the industry's most successful sales team, supports that view in relation to the A380: "It would be great to reduce options and we are striving for it. …

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