Airbus A350 learns lessons from 787 struggles

Airbus's next-generation A350 plane about to take off from Toulouse-Blagnac airport, southwestern France, on its first test flight on June 14, 2013.

The Airbus A350 jumbo jet makes its maiden flight today. It’s Airbus’ answer to rival Boeing’s ill-fated 787 Dreamliner, which broke ground on aerodynamics and fuel efficiency four years ago.

Being the first to roll out new technology has its advantages, says tech industry analyst Tim Bajarin: "You make a strong message that you are a leader." But, being first also has  its disadvantages.

"You're now showing the competition what they should be doing next and, if there are any problems," he says.

In the case of the Dreamliner, it 's been some pretty big arrows -- most recently battery failure. Bajarin says that’s why it can really pay to be a so-called “fast follower.”

The advantages to going second can be even greater in the airline industry says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing.

"In commercial aviation, if your $100 million-plus airplane doesn't work, it's a huge cost," Harteveldt says.

An airplane isn’t an iPod, Harteveldt adds. Airlines don’t often invest in new aircraft, and if you can land their business first, that’s a big, long-term advantage.

 

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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