Boeing ... Boeing ... gone

Boeing's surprise decision to abandon its plans to build a super-jumbo has set industry tongues wagging about the real reasons behind its volte face, writes Ian Griffiths. The most intriguing conspiracy theory, hotly denied by both parties, is that British Airways' failure to make a commitment hammered the final rivet into the super-jumbo's coffin.

BA was reported to be going cool on the project last year, only weeks after it announced its proposed alliance with American Airlines. That merger, the conspiracy theorists argue, changed the airline's perspective of its fleet requirement in the longer term. Super-jumbos became less relevant if BA was going to focus on high-frequency services on specific Transatlantic routes, a strategy that demands more smaller planes rather than fewer big ones.

For Boeing to produce a super-jumbo, it needed a launch partner prepared to commit to a substantial number of the aircraft. United Airlines, launch partner on the Boeing 777, made 34 firm orders with an option for a further 34 four years before that aircraft was ready to fly.

The airline most likely to make such a commitment was BA, with its considerable long-haul operations and its home base in a slot-constrained airport at Heathrow.

Industry insiders report that Boeing was working closely with BA to ensure the specifications met the airline's demand for improved efficiencies. Yet still BA did not sign up.