One question that we see pop up time and again is if Boeing ever felt threatened by the A380 and if they ever made any plans to beat it?
The answer to this question is rather more complicated, yes and no.
First some history…
The Boeing 747 as a passenger plane
Before the A380 was even a concept at Airbus, Boeing built and developed the 747. But the 747 was never intended to be a passenger aircraft, but rather a cargo plane.
The reason for this was the Concorde. Boeing saw the direction of the industry (moving towards speed and less about capacity) and believed that they would not be able to compete (Although they did work on an American Concorde). They then insisted on dominating the cargo market and building the best civilian lifting aircraft they could imagine.
However, the industry took a surprising twist and supersonic aircraft never really ‘took off’. Panam, a giant in the American airline business asked Boeing if the 747 could carry 300-400 passengers. And thus the passenger 747 was born.
This giant aircraft was very useful to transport vast amounts of passengers between hubs, such as Chicago, New York, London etc. Airbus saw this hub model and believed that if they built an even bigger aircraft, they could out-compete Boeing.
But as Airbus built the A380, Boeing slowly realized one important fact, hub airports were getting full. Instead of the airports expanding, airlines were now looking at flying to alternative regional airports. The hub airport slowly was being replaced with a more convenient (for passengers) point to point model.
Additionally, when the A380 launched, it never really got the orders that Airbus was hoping for and ultimately proved to not be very popular. For these reasons, Boeing was and still isn’t very threatened by the A380.
But they did create some plans for a bigger plane to take it on just in case.
What was Boeing’s back up plan?
Now, these plans have never been fully realized, but there is some evidence that Boeing planned an aircraft that could rival the A380, and a version of it is about to take flight.
The Boeing 777X program had a third version, the 777-10 further stretch. Unlike the two current production models, the 777-8 and 777-9, the 777-10 would have been able to carry 450 passengers. This would have placed it within striking distance of the A380 (Which can carry between 450-600 passengers).
“While no decisions have been made, we will continue to study 777X derivatives and seek customer input to develop products that provide the most value for customers.” – Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman in 2016
Boeing even pitched it to Emirates and Singapore, the former who invested into Dreamliner aircraft and the later who bought the A350 instead (now used on the world’s longest route).
Now that the A380 has been canceled, these plans are most likely to be abandoned… unless of course, Airbus creates a further stretch of the A350-1000.
Overall, this question is answered by how Boeing always tries to find new market opportunities rather than competition. Instead of going supersonic, they developed heavy lifting, instead of going bigger they went point to point.
Leading to the next question, what is the Boeing 797 supposed to be the alternative to.
What do you think? Did Boeing ever want to build an A380 rival?