Airbus and Boeing: Strengths and
Limitations of Strong States
JOHN G. FRANCIS
ALEX F. PEVZNER
Over the past three decades. Airbus has emerged as the world's
leading manufacturer of large commercial aircraft. The success of Europe's
Airbus is dramatic, given that three decades ago, American domination of the
large commercial aircraft market outside the Soviet bloc was uncontested.
Airbus is now one of the world's remaining two large commercial aircraft
manufacturers. Airbus was created by a coalition of European states and firms
committed to regaining a European presence in the international large commercial
aviation market. By most measures, the rise of Airbus is a striking
example of a successful industrial policy that required a sustained multi-state
collaboration over a number of decades.
In this paper, we argue that limiting an explanation of Airbus's achievement
to the framework of conventional industrial policy, although highly
useful, ignores that a necessary condition to the pursuit of a globally competitive
commercial aircraft industry is a strong state with the capacity and the
commitment to achieve a global position in civil aviation. This paper argues
that two distinctive factors were critical to the rise of Airbus. First, a coalition
of European states was able to act as though they were a strong state in the
creation and implementation of an industrial policy. Second, the United States
was cautious and constrained in responding to the Airbus challenge. This
caution contributed to the success of the Europeans in securing a major role in
the manufacture and sale of commercial aircraft.
The central importance of a strong state in reestablishing the commercial
aviation industry through the commitment of resources—both within its
borders and outside its borders—was not lost on the Europeans. By the 1960s,
European states recognized that their respective national aviation industries
JOHN G. FRANCIS is a professor of political...