Perhaps now, having announced its commitment to produce the 7E7 “Dreamliner” one day before the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother’s pioneering flight at Kitty Hawk (a clever attempt to link the 7E7 with milestones in the history of flight?), Boeing will let us know whether its previous commercial aviation proposal was actually a big bluff. We’re talking here about the Sonic Cruiser, whose primary selling point was increased speed for shorter trips. Under the bluff scenario, Boeing lulled Airbus into thinking Boeing would use the Sonic Cruiser mainly to appeal to a few higher-paying customers , and thereby largely cede international mass transportation to Airbus’s under-development A380, a 555-passenger jumbo jet that is more efficient than the venerable Boeing 747. Now, it turns out Boeing is going to build an aircraft that can provide nimble, efficient, international point-to-point service between many small-city pairs, while the A380 will be limited by size and passenger numbers to serve only the biggest hubs. (For more on what makes the 7E7 tick, read TR Senior Editor David Talbot’s article, “Boeing’s Flight for Survival.”)
Walt Gillette, a key 7E7 vice president, insisted to Talbot in an interview last year that no bluffing was involved. And that’s probably true–the Sonic Cruiser made sense during a booming economy with high-paying passengers, conditions that no longer prevail. On the other hand, the best poker players never show the hands they won by bluffing.