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Amidst all these new scandals with Boeing and unbelievable/disgusting safety situations like the example of the hidden camera report long time ago, and knowing that airlines only have Boeing or Airbus to purchase from and both with long waiting list, I wonder why don't we have other big airplane manufacturing companies?

I mean we have so many different manufacturing companies on the general aviation (yes I know they are smaller/"simpler") but I mean even on regional aircraft, which are closer in size to the big airliners, there are decent options(ATR, Dash, Embraer, Bae, Bombardier, etc).

Why there is only this BoeingAirbus duopoly, is it a economic reason, is it a regulatory reason, or is it a engineering complexity, what is it, what is the reason?

PS: Yes, there is Comac and Tupolev but those probably are never going to sell in the US/Europe. The question is towards the American / European / and similar markets.

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    $\begingroup$ All the other older major aircraft manufacturers got bought up by either Boeing or Airbus. Even Airbus bought Bombardier's CSeries airliner a few years back as the A220. $\endgroup$ Mar 15 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ Some other large manufacturers of aircraft are Embraer (Brazil), Antonov (Ukraine), and United Aircraft Corporation (Russia). UAC was formed by a compulsory merger of Russia's aircraft manufacturers. There's also some other smaller manufactures in other countries. $\endgroup$
    – CSM
    Mar 15 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a few tens of billions of dollars laying about so you can start up a competitor? Yeah, neither does anyone else. In America, at least (I don't know about rules in the EU/UK) anyone is free to start up a company to build something, but it's not a cheap process for any manufacturing concern, especially one as tightly regulated as aviation. Why aren't there many/any startup GA manufacturers? Same reasons, just on a (somewhat) smaller scale. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 15 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Boeing and Airbus are not isolated aircraft manufacturers, they belong to groups which also work in space and defense industries, e.g. "Airbus" is a branch of Airbus Group, formerly European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS). $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Mar 16 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ Embraer is worth mentioning for its success, and on the other hand, there's Mitsubishi who tried hard to enter the market. $\endgroup$ Mar 16 at 19:55

4 Answers 4

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It's the same tendency for consolidation that happens in all kinds of industries, once the stronger players gain the ability to expand by swallowing up the smaller players. Which usually starts because there are simply too many, then the pendulum swings until there are too few.

Bombardier made a play at muscling in on the Big Twins' lower tier with the C-series, but the costs drove the company to the edge of insolvency. The company was forced to give the program away to Airbus after the exclusion from the US market that resulted from Boeing lobbying.

The C-series having sucked all the money out of the Regional Jet program, Bombardier ended up getting out of the airline business totally by unloading the rights to the CRJs to Mitsubishi, abandoning that market to Embraer, and is now back to being a business jet manufacturer as it was in the 80s.

It's a shame in a way for an observer in Canada, because at the technical/operational level, the C-Series/A220 has succeeded beyond anyone's hopes back when it was in development.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, the CRJ is really an awesome aircraft, I've been in one of them, is so smooth, fast and nimble. Do you think the government should try to prohibit the acquisition / merger of manufacturers just like they tried to do with the airlines. $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Mar 15 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Gabe in the US there are anti-monopoly laws that the FTC gets involved in for major company acquisitions. Some may say that it hasn't worked in the case of Boeing... Then again, too much government involvement isn't always great, either. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 15 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ The one thing that large companies want is more government intervention. To prevent competition... Big companies have deep pockets. Politicians can't be expected to live on a government salary... $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Mar 15 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Questor Government intervention is not a sliding scale between "more" and "less". Every intervention is completely different and must be judged on its own merits. The total amount is a meaningless quantity. $\endgroup$ Mar 16 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Gabe Part of it is a broken system, but part of it is also just a function of the costs involved. Commercial jetliners are expensive to develop, certify, and produce. Even with more limited regulation and no lobbying by existing players, it’s not a market that it’s easy to even consider competing in. You can see the same effect in most other industries where total cost from design to production is measured in the billions of USD (for an extreme example, see EUV silicon phtolithography systems, ASML is the only supplier in the world for those). $\endgroup$ Mar 17 at 1:02
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Off the top of my head I would say (and it's definitely not going to be a thorough answer):

Time, money, tools and people.

Let's use the A350 as an example:

  • its design started as a clean sheet at the beginning of 2006 (actually 2004 if we take into account Airbus' initial idea to propose a simpler improved version of its A330); the first commercial flight was beginning 2015, i.e. 9 (or 11) years later;
  • total development cost summed up to around 15 billion US$ - 12 billion €, up from the initial estimation of 4 billion €;
  • Airbus employs some 110 thousand people; yes sure, not all of them worked on the development of the A350 but you also need people to certify, build and sell the aircraft, to handle external partners, people and customers and many other things not directly related to the physical aircraft.

An hypothetical startup willing to compete with Airbus (or Boeing) would need to find at least the same resources, actually more since Airbus has already people, tools, facilities, processes, customers, partners...

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    $\begingroup$ If they wanted to meet the same scale as Airbus. There have been lots of startups in other fields that started on smaller scales and grew big. $\endgroup$ Mar 16 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Usually only by doing something disruptive (e.g. Tesla) rather than competing in the same space. $\endgroup$ Mar 17 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ When the old giants are full of corruption and waste, simply costing less or innovating faster can be enough reason. What did Tesla do that was actually disruptive? It made electric cars. Why didn't all the other companies make electric cars? For basically the same reason Airbus and Boeing don't try risky new things - they have found what works and they're sticking to what works. $\endgroup$ Mar 17 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @user253751 yeah, but most of these "disruptive startups" are in non-physical fields. And cars (Tesla) is NOT the same as commercial airplanes. Anyone can get a prototype car certified by themselves if they make it a hobby and have a couple of years. Getting a plane certified for commercial use meanwhile is indeed a billion dollar enterprise for an organisation with the expertise (and connections) and way more without. SpaceX only worked because there was no competition (when they started) so the high stakes gamble had an insane payout potential at least. Planes don't $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 19 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 the market isn't the magical self-healing textbook thing you think it is, that's just a simplification to sell capitalism. Also don't lump in Airbus with Boeing lol, they're a great company but expanding production simply isn't that easy (and demand isn't that certain long-term, another reason why investing the billions into a competitor wouldn't be the best idea) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 19 at 9:31
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Aircraft manufacturing, railways, shipyards, electrical distribution, roads, satellite launch services, CPU manufacturing, telecommunications networks ... all these businesses have very little competition. The cause is the same for all: getting started in the business is very expensive.

Roads, passenger rail, passenger air travel to smaller cities all rely on government subsidies. Nobody wants to compete in those money losing businesses. Boeing gets subsidies from the United States. Airbus gets subsidies from the European Union. A new manufacturer would be unlikely to get much from governments.

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One can look the other way round: we are pretty much happy to have two market players in a market that strongly favors mergers and other consolidation paths. Big number investments, slow turnover, technology complexity, and heavy regulations are not the best place for small independent businesses and startups.

The good thing is that those two market players ended up in the two biggest economy spaces in the world - the US and the EU.

Both Airbus and Boeing are deep into "too big to fail" and "not in my term" areas for their corresponding governing bodies. Allowing a hypothetical merger or buyout will be a political suicide for whoever holds the corresponding office at either side.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the political importance of keeping some companies afloat is a key factor (ie indirect protectionism). You see this in how smaller car manufacturers during a downturn readily succumb or are taken over when not provided with government protection (SAAB, Volvo), whereas larger protected ones (the big three) lumber on. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Mar 17 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Basically we have two players because a monopoly would be bad, so the US is propping up Boeing and the EU is propping up Airbus. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 12:13

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