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:: June 2001 Newsletter ::

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Dear Fellow Observers Of The Human Condition,

Are people getting stupider? That’s the question that occupied my mind during this year’s Paris Air Show, from which I have just returned. Permit me to present the evidence for this depressing trend:

First, there’s Europe. I love the place, and I’ve got some great European friends. But The Continent has been exhibiting some worrying behavior lately, possibly related to that mad cow business we’ve all read about. First, why didn’t the various A400M member country ministers do a quick sanity check? “If we sign yet another meaningless A400M MoU, aren’t we going to look incredibly foolish?” they might have asked. Sadly, they didn’t ask. And they looked incredibly foolish. The Germans basically showed up thinking they could convince Airbus to build aircraft with no actual cash or even firm promises of cash; at least a few of the other guys seemed grateful that the Germans hadn’t actually called their bluff.

Equally chowderheaded was the European decision to reject the GE/Honeywell merger on grounds that were spurious, at best. That bundling issue is pretty much the ultimate red herring, and it’s clear the real problem is GE itself: it has simply become too competitive. The EU’s job is to thwart that kind of aggressive behavior. In America, anti-trust officials protect the consumer. In Europe, they protect other producers. However, this Monti fellow has made a name for himself, and is now almost as well known as Jack Welch. His predecessor, Karel Van Miert, could only dream of being this obstructionist.

Meanwhile, the Europeans, led by Airbus, continue to insist that Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser proposal has no merit whatsoever. As a fallback position, just in case they are wrong, EU officials have begun to point out the environmental problems that Sonic Cruiser could cause. This, of course, from the same people who are trying to get that wonderfully clean and efficient Concorde back in the air. “Concorde is a dirty fuel-guzzling bastard,” they will no doubt respond, “but it’s our bastard. And besides, that’s only 13 planes.”

Europe’s stupidities and blunders, sadly, have had more than a few US counterparts. Apparently, GE’s approach to the EU during the merger process was diplomatically brilliant—Jack Welch and company merely charged over there, insisted that there were no problems with the merger, and that only a corrupt, bumbling, Euro-socialist would object. And as for Boeing, Harry Stonecipher’s response to the EU’s Sonic Cruiser environmental issue was quite priceless: He told the Times of London there is “plenty of fuel still around.” The American caricature of Europeans is a bunch of incompetent, sclerotic bureaucrats. Europe’s worst caricature of Americans is a bunch of loud-mouthed, bullying, polluting Texan oafs. It seems like both sides are providing plenty of reasons to believe the worst about each other.

The First World, as usual, has no monopoly on dumb behavior. The only big airline order of the show came from Brazil’s TAM, which baffled everyone with orders for 20 A318s and 25 ERJ-190-200s. Ordering two essentially identical planes is foolish enough, but ordering them at the same time tends to remove all doubts about your airline being run by political lackeys.

For sheer comic relief, however, you really have to look to China. They did not disappoint. Harbin Aircraft signed an agreement with peripatetic losers Alliance Aircraft. The two will team up to build a new family of regional jets, in order to benefit Chinese industry. To maximize the benefits to China, where will the new planes be built? Why, West Virginia, of course. Just one question, from a concerned aviation analyst: will this deal die a quick, merciful death, or will it linger like a dead gerbil under the stairwell?

So, we can rest easy: the world remains in the hands of very dumb people, and they are getting dumber. But did I learn anything useful at Le Bourget? I guess. First of all, this Sonic Cruiser thing might just be real. And despite the antitrust nonsense, GE seems to have a formula that scares the Europeans senseless. Boeing is adopting that formula. Smart move. Meanwhile, however, Airbus continues to make progress in the market share war. That 111-aircraft ILFC order may have been speculative, but it does qualify as an endorsement. The A380 is now up to 28 firm orders, which is lower than Airbus claims, but higher than before the show.

The other standout feeling I gleaned from the show concerned the Russkies. It’s sad, but it’s over. These guys were one step away from begging for spare change. Several Russian aircraft (including the MiG-AT trainer and Su-30 fighter) had to flee from Swiss creditors before the last day of the show (seriously). Aside from the Sukhoi fighter series, it’s difficult to see anything of Russia’s glorious aviation heritage that can be saved. The Italians have now completely re-branded and Westernized Yakovlev’s Yak-130 combat trainer as the M-346, but Italian industry has always been inexplicably fond of hopeless trainers.

This supplement has a bunch of minor reports—AMX, Rooivalk, Huey, LCA, Tornado, etc. The 757 outlook is basically unchanged, while the Trainer overview is partly new. Next month, we’ll update the Regional Aircraft overview, 747, ERJ-170/190, Hawker series, and lots of others. Call with requests. And I hope you all live in places less sweltering than Washington.

Yours, ‘Til Someone Invents A De-Stupidification Machine,

Richard Aboulafia
 

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