Boeing Steals an Order From Airbus

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Late Tuesday afternoon airline industry analysts at Leeham News reported that Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: HA) canceled an existing order for six Airbus A330-800s and will place an order next week with Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) for an unspecified number of Boeing’s 787-9 Dreamliners.

The cancellation is no particular surprise. Back in October, CNN reported that Hawaiian Airlines was considering an aircraft change for its planned expansion into Indian, western Australian, London and even Moscow markets. With its 7,500-nautical mile (nm) range, the A330-800 was believed to be a good solution for these so-called long-thin routes (lots of miles, not so many passengers) that have been serviced primarily by Boeing 757s and 767s.

Boeing also has been considering a new airplane to fill the gap left by the discontinued 757 and the virtually discontinued 767. This is the “New Midrange Aircraft” and Boeing would really like to drive a spike through the heart of the A330-800 before it announces what some have dubbed the Boeing 797. The six Airbus planes reportedly canceled Tuesday were the only six A330-800s on the Airbus order book, another reason Hawaiian wanted out of the deal.

Airbus’s A330neo family also poses a threat to the 787, which has not been a really hot order driver for Boeing since 2013. That’s one more reason why Boeing needs to announce the 797. Airbus is pitching the A330neo to both United and American Airlines while Boeing has essentially vaporware. Even if the 797 is approved and announced, it won’t be available until the middle of the next decade.

Is that soon enough? Boeing must think so because the company has been in no particular rush to counter Airbus with a new aircraft. Leeham News notes, however, that if Boeing can convince both United and American Airlines to be launch customers for the 797, the Airbus A330neo will be seriously wounded.

That’s what makes the reported deal with Hawaiian Airlines so interesting. It’s an early shot fired in what will be a much more intense battle.