Dubai: Airbus has upstaged Boeing in this edition of the Dubai Air Show by securing commitments and firm orders worth $5.3 billion for 33 aircraft.
Although many industry analysts attribute this to Airbus's wider product offerings, many give credit to one man — John Leahy, the chief operating officer.
"Boeing changed the world in the 20th century, but Airbus aircraft are new and designed for the 21st century. The past belonged to Boeing, the future belongs to Airbus," said a top Airbus salesman.
"We are currently offering better aircraft, with better fuel economy and lower noise. Both A380s and A350s are changing the global aviation industry. These are game-changing aircraft that are taking the global aviation industry to the next level."
Leahy, 59, ironically, is an American selling a European product. He joined Airbus North America in January 1985, becoming head of sales soon after.
In 1994, he set a commercial goal for the company to achieve 50 per cent of market sales by 2000. The target was reached in 1999 and Airbus maintained an over 50 per cent share — including worldwide deliveries of aircraft — until 2005.
Leahy has reason to be confident. Talking about market share, he said, "In 1982, Boeing's market share was 82 per cent while Airbus had only 18 per cent.Now, Boeing's market share has declined to 41 per cent while our share has gone up to 59 per cent."
On Sunday, Boeing Commercial Airplane's CEO Jim Albaugh said the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a ‘game changer'.
The next day, Leahy informed the media that the Airbus A380 and the A350 is surely a ‘game changer' in the global aviation industry.
"The B787 is definitely a very advanced aircraft. However, our A350 is a much more advanced aircraft with better fuel economy and passenger convenience and more environment friendly," Leahy said.
Deal with Mubadala
Leahy said his organisation is keen to develop skills and capabilities in the UAE.
"We want to see the UAE become a partner in future aircraft development. Our agreement with Mubadala is aimed at making it a Tier 1 supplier for our aircraft and in future have them on board as a development partner for future aircraft development programme once they develop capabilities.
Leahy speaks highly of the Middle East and especially the Gulf region.
"This is the centre of the earth. In a 10-hour flying radius from Dubai, you could cover 85 per cent of the global population and 66 per cent of the world's GDP," he says.
"Dubai and other Gulf cities could connect any city pairs on the globe - from Johannesburg to Seoul and from Sydney to London. They are well positioned to do that and that's what some of the great airlines here are doing."
He believes regional airlines are well managed.
Although Airbus has changed its top management, especially CEOs due to ongoing wranglings between French and German governments on the appointment - after its charismatic chief executive Noel Forgeard was moved up a few years ago, Leahy remained constant — selling Airbus to customers worldwide.
Despite his success in promoting Airbus, analysts say, he might not get the top slot — being an American. However, that probably doesn't bother him.
A350 on the radar
Airbus' new offering - the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) - which was launched in reaction to Boeing's Dreamliner 787, has already secured 505 orders four years ahead of its commercial deliveries scheduled for the summer of 2013.
The Dreamliner order book stands at about 800 after cancellations due to delays.
Airbus has started developing the composite structures for the aircraft in its Hamburg plant.
The aircraft is expected to undergo final assembly in 2012 for flight testing. Airbus says it is on schedule for deliveries in 2013.