Friday, June 15, 2007

Will Green Aviation Kneecap Boeing

The green movement and the related effort to reduce carbon emissions continues to transform our world. It's prompting Airbus to consider a zero-emissions passenger aircraft in our lifetimes. And with that as a backdrop, Airbus wants to work with Boeing on transforming the aviation sector:

Boeing and Airbus should overcome their deep-rooted rivalry to develop together clean technology for the aviation industry, according to Louis Gallois, the European aircraft maker’s chief executive.

Mr Gallois, echoing the industry’s concern as governments seek to crack down on aviation’s environmental impact, invited his US rival and other engine and aircraft makers to pool research on technology to cut carbon emissions...

On Thursday EasyJet, the UK low-cost carrier and one of Airbus’s most important customers, set out its environmental requirements for the next generation of short-haul “super-clean” aircraft. It said the technology existed for the aircraft to be operational by 2015.

It unveiled a design for what it dubbed the “EcoJet”, which would need to be 25 per cent quieter and emit 50 per cent less carbon dioxide and 75 per cent less oxides of nitrogen than the A320 and 737 families.

The EasyJet design includes two rear-mounted “open rotor” engines placed between twin tailfins, lightweight carbon fibre fuselage, and wings designed for lower speed and shorter range than the A320 and 737 families.

On the one hand, Boeing and Airbus serve the same customer base, so it's not as if Boeing can ignore the demand of customers for 'greener' planes. At the same time, Airbus probably faces higher operating costs because of its extensive operations in heavily-regulated Europe, as opposed to more business-friendly climates in the US and elsewhere. Further, investments in new technology for 'green' aviation will likely cost Airbus quite a lot; it makes sense to encourage Boeing to make similar expenditures.

One potential wildcard: what if Boeing and Airbus do cooperate, and Boeing stands to gain from Airbus's investments? Will that make Boeing more forgiving of the subsidies Airbus has received from its government parents?

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