Monday, October 02, 2006

Stalled for takeoff- SIA still waiting for 380 delivery, but for how long ?

Airbus' launch of the much anticipated super-jumbo A-380 is shaping up as a text book case of how not to manage a new product launch. And with Singapore Airlines as its biggest customer the impact of Airbus' failings may well be felt here. It was just a few years ago that SIA announced it would be the first to purchase and the first to fly the new super plane - capable of moving up to 800 people in one flight. But the announcement on October 2 that the A380 would again be stalled must put into question the roll-out of the A380 especially as capacity demands on the Singapore to Europe route are fairly full and SIA will be looking to find replacements for the A380 should it not be delivered on time. Many people are beginning to wonder if the miracle of modern engineering is actually a lame duck or worse, a titanic mistake. SIA for its part is still in the dark on when the planes will actually be delivered, with spokesman Stephen Foreshaw telling reporters: "We're awaiting details from them to advise us of the delays on the delivery positions."

Which of course begs two questions. Firstly, just how much does SIA really know about the extent of the delays and when they can expect to press the planes into service? It seems that the answer is not much. The second is then how much Airbus really knows about the length and nature of the delays? Again, it seems like not much. Which is really troubling for Airbus customers like SIA. It is not as if Airbus has not known there are delays in its program - this is the third time they announced delays. What is troubling is what it doesn't know - namely when it will finish the planes. With SIA having the biggest order of A380's among Asian carriers and such an uncertain future in terms of deliverability of the aircraft, might it be time to look to alternatives? SIA already has six Boeing 777-300 ER's coming online later this year which will ease capacity fears, and will raise the fleet size to 90 planes, of which 85 are made by Boeing. So the A-380 was Airbus' big opportunity to snare one of the world's most important carriers, but it is so far proving unable to deliver. SIA has an order for 20 new Airbus A350s with an option for 20 more due in 2012, but surely the hitherto Boeing shop will have to look carefully at Airbus as its partner. Faulty wiring is rumoured to be the latest reason for the third delay in scheduled production completion, which has angered customers and sparked the departure of two top executives from EADS, the shares of which have plunged 29 percent this year. The A380 was conceived by Airbus in an attempt to stay ahead of its major competitor Boeing. Now, it looks like Boeing may be able to cash in on Airbus' inability to deliver. Just four A380s are now expected to be ready next year, less than half the number predicted. Singapore Airlines, which has the biggest order for A380s among Asian carriers, (Emirates is the largest customer with orders for 45 planes) ordered nine more of the superjumbo in July, taking their total to 19. The first delivery is scheduled for December, more than six months behind the initial schedule.

Operations will probably not be disrupted by the A380 delay because Singapore Airlines is due to take delivery of 777-300ERs made by Boeing Co. by the end of this year, however reputational damage is potentially enormous.

So will the delays affect SIA, will they buy more Boeings instead, or lease planes until the A380s come on-line ? Tell us what you think.