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10-18-2010 / 10:21 AM

This hasn’t happened for a long time: The 737 is outselling the A320 this year by a wide margin. Right now the order race between the two airplane families stands at 432 vs. 185 net orders. Something fundamental must have happened to trigger this massive shift in customer favour.

It could well be that potential A320 buyers are sitting on the sideline until Airbus has decided on the A320 NEO. They first want to see, what the numbers look like. Especially the leasing companies are worried because an advanced version of the 25 year old bestseller certainly would affect residual values of their fleets of A320 Classics.

However, I think the main reason is that a 737 NEO has already started rolling from the production line in Renton.

It can be visited in the Boeing mock-up center. It is the 737 with the so called Sky Interior. Using the technology and the design language of the revolutionary 787 interior, it sets a new standard in the narrowbody world. I have seen it myself some weeks ago. It is mind blowing. From the passenger perspective the 737 has become an airplane of a new generation.

The new cabin is spacious, modern and friendly. Instead of hatracks which make you sprain your neck when taking or leaving even an aisle seat, there is ample headroom now - even for someone who unlike me is six foot five. At the same time the new pivoted bins are significantly more spacious than the old ones. Don’t ask me, how they did it. The cabin will be quieter as well (although that's a difference you can't notice in a mock-up).

Yes, this interior makes every other 737 and every A320 look old. No wonder that since it has been available as an alternative to the conventional interior, most of the customers have opted for it.

The discussion whether the A320 or the 737 offers better passenger comfort has always been an exaggerated marketing thing – more a question of creative measuring and a matter of belief and taste than of relevant facts. But now there is a clear leader, perceptible to any passenger and visible to the naked eye. No tape measure required.

In the real world there is not that much difference in the economics of both airplanes (pros and cons depend more on specific operation of an airline). Therefor the new cabin makes an even bigger difference. As this year’s sales numbers are indicating it seems to turn the tide in this important market segment in favour of Boeing.

For two reasons Toulouse needs to find an answer to this:

  1. Airbus can’t afford being outsold like this year because the A320 family is its main cash cow (besides the A330).
  2. The 737-700 now is less vulnerable from a possible market success of the Bombardier CSeries, which has a contemporary cabin design as well. The A319 isn't.

They better come up with some innovative ideas soon.

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