British Airways splits its future plane purchases between Boeing and Airbus. Although earlier statements suggested that the company was not interested in a Superjumbo sized carrier such as the new generation A380, Willie Walsh and his team show a chess-like grasp of strategy
Speculation in Seattle was pretty much right. A week before any official announcement, Industry insider James Wallace noted
The campaign is a key showdown between the A380 and 747-8 Intercontinental and the 787 and A350 . So far, only Lufthansa has ordered the passenger version of the 747-8. But Airbus also needs another major international customer to back the A380. It has repeat orders from Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, but Airbus has long sought to bring BA into the A380 fold.
Jefferies & Co. analyst Howard Rubel told the AP he believes investors are expecting British Airways to split its order between the two aerospace rivals.
“I think B.A. wants to bring a little competition into the mix,” he said.
BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh has visited Boeing and Airbus for briefings on their planes.
The airline recently ordered more 777s.
Even though British Airways early on said the A380 was too big for its needs, Walsh has said the airline is now interested in the big Airbus jet, which will enter airline service next month with Singapore Airlines after a two-year delay.
Wallace’s blog also attracted a remarkable set of speculations about the prospective decision. Most seemed to be based on ‘sources close to Boeing or BA’. The following was typical
Posted by unregistered user at 9/20/07 9:21 a.m.
I’ve heard 10 A380’s + options on 10 more , 20 787’s + 10 options and 10 A350’s + 10 options
When the news of the decision was formally announced it was widely replicated from news agency sources. I took this from The BBC, but found it on all the main news feeds.
BA will buy 12 Airbus A380 superjumbos and 24 Boeing 787s, to be delivered between 2010 and 2014, for a reported $8.2bn (£4.1bn). The group also has options to buy seven more A380s as well as a further 18 Dreamliners from Boeing.
Further negotiations will occur so that BA can replace its remaining 747-400s. This appears to be between the 787-10 and the 777-300 ER from Boeing, and the Airbus A350
The Boeing reaction was between gritted teeth:
The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] is honored that British Airways has selected the 787 Dreamliner as a key element of its long-haul fleet renewal
What’s going on?
Leadership geeks may be tempted to see unfolding a story of strategic leadership. If so, it is a story which has to place leadership with a wide cast of strategic players. We may start by thinking of Willie Walsh as the dominant decision-maker in the story, with some billion pounds/dollars to invest in the future of his company.
The evidence of Mr Walsh’s leadership style suggests that he will have been very active in the processes building up to the decision, internal to British Airways. At present we can only speculate. However, the decision has enormous significance. It will impact on the travelling lives of millions of people some more directly than others. Arguably it will impact on the future of employees of Boeing, EADS, and a myriad of suppliers and sub-contractors including Rolls Royce who will supply the engines. At another level, the debate on political influence and subsidies to Airbus and Boeing continues to bubble away.
However charismatic and autocratic his leadership style, Walsh will have been flying in tricky conditions and with a chief pilot’s usual near-overload of advice and chatter. Advisors, and advisors of advisors will have examined assorted risk assessments from in and outside BA into which data will have been fed from numerous sources. Somewhere in these the influence of various governments and global institutions will have been factored in, as well as the much-publicised production delays at Airbus and more recently at Boeing for the A380 and B787 projects. Willie Walsh keeps sane by following what the great Herbert Simon called satisficing, or simplifying the decision through a set of personal mental filters.
In an avalanche of articles and books since the 1950s, Simon ..focused much of his attention on the issue of decision-making – and [developed his theory of ] “bounded rationality”. Agents, he claims, face uncertainty about the future and costs in acquiring information in the present. Thus .. they have only “bounded rationality” and are forced to make decisions not by “maximization” by “satisficing”, i.e. setting an aspiration level which, if achieved, they will be happy enough with, and if they don’t, try to change either their aspiration level or their decision.
I have taken the view that such processes are those which chess-players also have to make. In this chess-game, BA wants to avoid fixing the position, when there is much to be said for keeping options open. So the overall decision on replacing the fleet of aging 747 400s may or may not have been made. It makes sense to keep options open, even to the extent of splitting up the decision between the two giant contenders for the business. That is partly why decisions also involve options as well as firm commitments.
Those with a liking for logistics theory can debate the merits of smaller planes and P2P (point to point) strategy, and larger ones with a Hub-based strategy. Whatever.
A judicious mix of planes of differing size keeps both strategic options open. A judicious mix of ‘top-down’ leadership actions, and ‘data driven’ analysis may also be appropriate.