Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

17 July 2014

This year’s Farnborough Airshow just outside London brought a shiny mix of brand new toys for the world’s airline executives and military leaders to drool over.

Boeing announced multiple orders for the new generation of the 737, dubbed the 737 Max. It boasts new wings and retooled engines but the basic fuselage design is the same. It actually looks almost identical to the original, which was rolled out for German carrier Lufthansa in 1969 to much fanfare. More than 7,000 of them have been built since.

When it comes to building jets there is very little room for design frivolity. Sure, engineers want them to look good but anything superfluous is most likely scrapped. This meant, for a good long while, that jets looked like… jets. There really haven’t been any radical design changes since the 1970s. Yes, the big double-deckers – the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 – have their bulbous tops but the design language has generally been the same.

But at this year’s airshow a new design language was ever present. Both Boeing’s 787 and Airbus’s A350 look like the lovechildren of a shark, falcon and commercial airliner of yesteryear. The wing tips are rounded like those of a bird and the tail fins look as though they are stalking prey as they ply the tarmac. The manufacturers say it’s all in the name of efficiency – but it’s indisputable that these new jets catch your eye. They are actually fun to look at.

It has forever been a struggle for Boeing and Airbus to make enough consumers care enough about the way their planes look that it will influence their decision to buy tickets on one aircraft type and not another. That said, it seems the aerospace behemoths are making some progress. Airlines, as they once did long ago, are now marketing the airplane type as well. Ticket sales for maiden flights on these new planes are becoming a big part of an airline’s promotional strategy. A truly new generation of airplanes is making the world excited about travel again.

It remains to be seen if these new machines can stay as relevant as the 737 has since it first excited onlookers back in 1969 – but it’s fun to know that the world seems to care once more.

Tristan McAllister is Monocle’s transport editor.

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