By Tim Hepher and Jamie Freed
SINGAPORE, February 12 (Reuters) – Years ago, when Randy Tinseth was still managing Boeing's sales account for United Airlines, the airline's designers pushed him away.
"They called me and said that we want to show United this interesting product and we can't tell you until we get there," recalled Tinseth. "We arrived at United and this crumpled silver case comes off the conveyor belt for bags and … I don't even know what's in it."
The model of a futuristic high-speed plane called Sonic Cruiser came out.
But the plane never took off, as airlines in the early 2000s placed more emphasis on efficiency than speed. The company quickly moved to the high-tech, more conventional 787 Dreamliner – so quickly that rival Airbus suggested that the Sonic Cruiser was just a bluff.
Tinseth, who recently told colleagues that he plans to retire after 38 years at Boeing, said he has many stories about betting on roller coasters in an often volatile sector.
"I remember it was a few years talking about (Sonic Cruiser) and then it became 7E7 and 787," said Tinseth at the Singapore Airshow.
The 60-year-old Montana-born engineer attended dozens of shows as one of the industry's most influential analysts. This week's show, sparsely populated because of fears of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, is his last, before stepping down as Boeing's vice president of marketing.
"In two days, you can get a sense of what's going on more than ever. This program is really about the virus without a doubt, and it's about MAX for us," he said, referring to the 11-month duration. former grounding of Boeing's best-selling model.
Eighteen years after the death of the ambitious Sonic Cruiser project, and in the midst of a crisis over the 737 MAX, involved in two fatal high-profile crashes, Boeing filed another mid-sized jet project for further study.
Whatever decisions Boeing makes now on midsize jets will shape its final path out of the MAX crisis, analysts say. So far, he said that abandoning MAX and building a direct replacement is not an option.
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Tinseth declined to be led into a discussion about the mid-size plane. "The dynamic has changed. I'll leave it at that," he said.
But he sees the trend for lighter and more agile jets initiated by the 787. These aircraft allow airlines to start new routes unavailable for larger, thirstier planes.
And it is a trend that paid off for Boeing, which sold 1,485 Dreamliners. Lately, however, she's been on the losing side of the same battle, when airlines rushed to buy the smaller Airbus A321XLR.
ROOM AND VROOM
Tinseth began his career as a flight test engineer on the A321XLR aircraft and the potential medium-sized jet from Boeing intends to replace: the Boeing 757. With long wings and sport engines, the out-of-production airplane remains his favorite model Boeing.
"When you take off, you feel the performance at the back of your neck," he said.
He said his favorite plane by a competitor was the A350-900, sold by Airbus. But, as usual in the jet marketing war, there was a sting in the tail.
"I think we have a big advantage, but it's a good plane, unless you're less than five feet tall and can't reach the bins," joked Tinseth. Airbus says its A350s are among the largest.
Tinseth said reducing emissions would be the industry's main challenge this century.
"There are innovations that I still don't know about, but we will find a way to innovate to solve this problem," he said.
He shit like an old idea of a "mixed-wing body" plane design presented by Airbus this week, which, according to Airbus, will greatly increase efficiency and reduce emissions.
This week's Singapore Airshow included a rare appearance of US and Chinese fighter air demonstrations at the same event. Combined with fears of the coronavirus, it was a surreal atmosphere for many.
"It's kind of weird to be out on such a weird show, but at the same time, it still makes it special," said Tinseth. "I watched those planes flying today, the boom and the vroom." (Reporting by Tim Hepher. Editing by Gerry Doyle)