SINGAPORE—Airbus chief salesman John Leahy does not expect Boeing to react quickly with a new product to counter the Airbus A321neo, but nevertheless sees a need for his competitor to act.

                                                                       

“If you sit out there in Seattle you see a big hole (in the portfolio) and I think they need to do something,” Leahy said at the Singapore Air Show. However, “I don’t actually see them doing much except presentations in the next two years,” Leahy quipped. He argues that because of the success of the A321neo against the 737-9, Boeing is in a “tough situation.” Leahy said any replacement would have to be a family of aircraft that would require at least $10-12 billion in investment.

Airbus had 1,101 orders for the A321neo at the end of January, compared with 217 for the Boeing 737-9 (at the end of November 2015). Airbus likes to point out that the A320neo family reached a market share of 68% in 2015 with only 32% controlled by the 737 MAX. “The airlines are voting with their checkbooks that there is no competition. The A320neo is the aircraft that they want.”

Boeing, of course, disagrees. “Once we were out there with the MAX and the new head-to-head—airlines knew what the choice was—the market has been about 50/50,” Scott Fancher, senior vice president and general manager-airplane development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told Aviation Daily in an interview. “We’ve got a distinct advantage in the MAX-8 space, they look a little bit better in the 321 space. . . . To say it’s a decisive advantage for Airbus, I just don’t see that the data back that up.”

Leahy stressed that the production rate increases planned by Airbus for its narrowbodies from the current 42 aircraft per month to 60 is justified by the market. “At rate 60 there still is an insufficiency of production,” he said. “We should be careful about not being able to deliver the aircraft that we have sold.”

At Airbus, the ratio of backlog to annual production is currently 10:1, but if production is raised to 60 per month as planned from mid-2019, the ratio would drop to 7:1 in 2020.