It’s time to unwind, get healthy, eat right and avoid jet lag, says Airbus’ Leahy

John Leahy has been with Airbus 33 years, holding his current position as COO-Customers for more than 20 of these. He retires this month. Jan. 15’s 2017 year-end Orders and Deliveries press conference will be his last. LNC interviewed Leahy about his tenure at Airbus. Parts 1, 2 and 3 appear here, here and here. Today is Part 4. LNC’s Scott Hamilton has known Leahy for nearly 30 of these 33 years.

 Jan. 12, 2018, © Leeham Co.: “I want to unwind, get healthy, eat right and not be in a constant state of jet lag. At 44, 45, I didn’t mind it. Right now, the thought of

The end of an era. Airbus President Fabrice Bregier (L) and COO Customers John Leahy. Bregier leaves Airbus next month after more than two decades. Leahy retires this month after more than three decades. Photo via Google images.

doing trips to Australia, I’d be jet lagged for three days.”

These are John Leahy’s plans for the first year after he retires in a matter of days after 33 years at Airbus.

When he was younger—that age 45 he referenced above—he thought nothing of working in Toulouse, Airbus headquarters, on Monday, getting on a plane to fly to Southeast Asia and Australia and be back in Toulouse to put in a full day on Friday—working the clock to make the long, long round trip.

“It was sort of fun,” he recalls. “I did a lot.” But not now.

Getting healthy

At the 2017 IATA annual meeting in Cancun, Mexico, Leahy told a press gathering that his doctor and his wife told him he needed to retire.

The years of travel, business meetings and entertaining clearly had taken a toll. His health occasionally hit the press even before then. An emergency appendectomy and some heart issues plagued Leahy over the years.

He loved the business, he loved the sales hunt and he loved beating Boeing. It was said he wouldn’t quit until he left feet first. Clearly, this changed.

Now, Leahy wants to relax and restore his health. No consulting, or so he says.

Biggest success

With 33 years and thousands of sales campaigns behind him, Leahy looks back and points to his early years cracking the US market. There are also other sales successes, outside the US, that were important, but he takes a bigger view of his biggest successes about which he is the proudest.

“The biggest success is the strategy going for 50% market share and lining up the company behind me to do that,” Leahy says.

“I think another thing was to break the concept that you couldn’t overlap airplanes, which they had around here. The 330 was intentionally being held down in takeoff weight and performance because they didn’t want it to overlap the 340.”

One of the first projects Leahy pushed through was the A330-200, “which turned out to kill the 767.”

Sales campaigns

While Leahy freely named names of sales campaigns in the US—United, American, Northwest, Pan Am—he declined to do so in the rest of the world.

His greatest successes were “the ones that I won.” His greatest disappointments were “the ones I lost.”

“The biggest disappointment is not just losing a campaign. With 50% market share, I’ve got a lot of experience in losing campaigns. It would be losing campaigns but not knowing you’re were losing.

“If we’re sitting there in front of the customer and we learn he’s going with Boeing, we should know he was leaning in that direction,” he said. “The shocking ones would be the ones where you are sitting across the table, you think you are winning, and all of a sudden he says, ‘John, you know, you’ve got one of the best sales teams.’ When I hear that, I know I’ve just lost. ‘These guys work around the clock for you.’ I think, oh, shit! When I hear that, and you think you’re winning, it’s just devastating.”

Leahy wouldn’t name names, however, except in recalling a campaign with Delta Air Lines.


Delta, along with American, Continental and United airlines, signed exclusive supplier agreements with Boeing in 1994. The moves caught Leahy off guard.

The European Union had to review the merger between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas three years later and found the agreements to be illegal. Boeing agreed to abrogate the agreements, but one CEO—Crandall—years later acknowledged he did a side letter agreeing to honor the terms. It’s likely the other airlines did, too.

United didn’t buy an Airbus airplane again until Glenn Tilton was CEO and ordered the A350. Delta stayed true to Boeing until 2013—about 20 years.

“When we finally broke back into Delta [in 2013], I remember we did lose a deal (the A321ceo vs 737-900ER). We were about ready to walk away and never bid again. We had put a deal on the table and we had won the deal, from what we could see. They called up Boeing and asked if they wanted to meet it. Boeing put a little more on the table and won the deal.”

Leahy said Airbus asked afterwards why Delta would do that. He said a very senior executive they’d been working with Boeing for 20 years and thought they owed them the last call.

Leahy asked why Airbus should ever bid again if all that was going to happen was that it would be played off against Boeing?

“I did say to that executive, isn’t it interesting that Boeing always had your best interests at heart [with the exclusive supplier deal]? How come, when you brought us in, they gave you the best and final offer, then when we bid again, they improved their best and final, when we bid again, they improved their best and final furthermore, and when we won the deal, you called them up and they improved it a third time?

“Maybe if you had just called them and never brought us in, you might have been paying more for the airplanes,” Leahy said he told Delta.

“How any company would ever say ‘I blocked myself from competition because I got a short-term gain on this next deal is beyond me,’” Leahy says.

Airbus won the next round for the A321ceo. Delta since reordered the 737-900ER and the A321ceo, buying more than 100 of each. It also won Delta’s first order, last month, for the re-engined aircraft, choosing the A321neo over the Boeing 737-10.

Colorful characters

Although Leahy was “pissed” at American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall for launching the exclusive supplier trend in the US with Boeing, he looks back at Crandall as one of the most colorful people in the industry.

“Bob Crandall was one you would definitely call colorful,” Leahy said. “He was probably one of the most colorful.

“There are others around the world who are legends, who you knew you were with a great man.

“My friend, Steve Hazy, the Godfather. People joke about it, but he really is the Godfather of the [lessor] industry. People look up to him. They look up to his knowledge of the industry. They broke the mold with characters like that.”

Hazy was so influential and powerful, his team was on countless equipment committees at Airbus and Boeing when new airplanes were being conceived. An endorsement from Hazy could “make” an airplane. A criticism could “break” an airplane, as LNC described here.

28 Comments on “It’s time to unwind, get healthy, eat right and avoid jet lag, says Airbus’ Leahy

  1. Thanks Scott, maybe some of the younger readers won’t fully understand.

    Its like 5 seconds after V1, decision time. All the best to JL, he deserves it.

    Gave millions of passengers to opportunity to fly in the most comfortable and reliable aircraft in the world.

    • A spot on comment . This guy was a classy representative of Airbus.

  2. ” break the concept that you couldn’t overlap airplanes, which they had around here.”
    That for me is probably the best thing he did- as of course its normally the sales who decide the segments that planes will be offered for.
    example I mentioned before for Boeing was the 737-900 was indroduced while the 757 was still in production, so the range and passenger capacity held down. The models sales wasnt a sucess, but improved a lot with the 757 gone and the improved 737-900ER with extra overwing doors to raise max capacity. of course this was 20 years ago when the top of the range was a niche area.
    Sure its painfull if a particular model has to languish while a more popular model thrives even more

  3. At many Paris Air Show, I had to endure [Leahy] {Edited as violation of Reader Comment rules] during Airbus press conferences.

    He even got more arrogant than Airbus Forgeard or Jarry, that is not a small feat.

      • Caught red-handed. Mr. Phillipe Cauchi also operates “Info Aero Quebec”, a french language website who’s twitter page and website prominently display the CSeries, yet all of the articles are mostly Boeing propaganda pieces that criticize the CSeries/Bombardier and praise Boeing. A snake in disguise.

      • Just checked it. Webster dictionary should just have a photo of him for the “paid shill” description.

    • Going to miss the anticipation of Airbuses last news conferences at airshows. Most of the time JL had a bunny that he pulls out of the hat.

      • You’re right, the JL’s 5th quarter is equivalent for aerospace industry of the “one more thing” from Steve Jobs’s keynotes. I fear that it’s going to be less funny and exciting for most of us (except for our friend from Quebec…).

  4. History tends to be written backwards, the outcome is seen as being preordained and a natural progression. In the case of Airbus when JL joined things were looking up, they had products that were saleable. However the drive, vision and belief to take that shambolic European mashup with a couple of products to something approaching parity with Boeing is mind blowing.

    To put it another way if you had suggested to any smug Boeing or McDonnell Douglas guy that combined they would be outsold by Airbus thirty years ago they would have injured themselves laughing.

    I have a good take on the British take on Airbus from that period and even the pro Airbus faction were sceptical.

  5. Will there ever be a full and frank open goal that was missed with the A340 Mk2 aka the HD variant?

    Putting the same fuselage onto the new high weight wing was a huge fail. The whole concept was crying out for a 250” wide cabin or at the very least one 12” wider than the then current 7double7.

    3-4-3 at 18” wide should have been the goal — cheerio 747, cheerio 7double7.

    Holding onto your heritage is one thing but it would have been cheaper, more productive and profitable to have engineered a new fuselage then — rather lose sales, engineer an ego trip, lose credibility and then engineer a new fuselage 10 years too late.

    Hopefully the book will be more even handed and illuminating.

    • Missing from above …

      Will there ever be a full and frank discussion regarding the open goal missed …

      Hopefully the sentiment got through.

      • the A340 500/600 could have succeeded hadnt the ETOPs rules been loosened to suit Boeing.
        Boeing got ETOPs 180 for the 777-200 at EIS, which was a first.

        • Ahh, buts as I recall Airbus stated the “loosening” first by operating them in Asia beyond the limits of the time.

          The problem with all great ideas is that it can come back and bite the originator as well.

          I think there is some wisdom about the early adapter getting bit?

          And having following this, I can think of one situaiton that more engines helped.

          That would be an L1011 or DC/MD tri jet off Florida that the mechanic pulled the oil plugs and put them in wrong and two engines blew all their oil out.

          All the rest (including a 747 going into Japan that shut down the last engine as it landed)

          In that case it was a fuel mismanagement issue.

          The laugher to me (most fortunately y no one was killed) was the BA 747 that lost and engine around Las Vegas, flew across the entire USA, then most of the Atlantic with 3 engines.

          The brilliant pilots apparently could not do math, the drag of an out engine meant that they were not going to make Heathrow.

          They had to abort to Ireland.

          • Yes BA 268 lost an engine just after takeoff from LAX who continued on to London, only made it to Manchester. But I think the 747 was certified to fly on only 3 engines by the UK CAA, but not the FAA who were spitting tacks about it.

            The original ETOPs for overwater was only 60 mins for 2 engined planes, and while some Asian operators were running the A300 to 120 mins under ICAO rules, it was the 767 which first got to 75 mins and then 120 min which opened up the North Atlantic. The extension to 180 mins allowed 767s to fly to Hawaii starting in 1989.- Details from

    • @Noah: I didn’t “squander” the opportunity. This was about Leahy’s 33 years at Airbus and his retirement. It wasn’t about corporate internal politics or investigations. In any event, do you really think Leahy would comment on on-going investigations? Get real.

      • First I do recognize the balance and what this Blog is about, and for that I am grateful, its a great opportunity to learn, get others views and some deep insite into the technical end.

        Comment on reporting in general.

        33 years (or 3) also include Internal politic and investigations really is a topic. None of this occurs in a vacuum of purely technical aspects.

        Granted it would have been a downer and Scott is not a journalist or about getting information, something of a tweener.

        Its about relationships and getting information about the industry (politics of course having nothing to do with the industry – grin)

        Of course what happens is people also slip in details that are misleading.

        JL of course would not have said squat (he may also be up to his neck in this).

        Kind of reminds me of the Sports world. Interviews are the bread and butter, so you don’t report on the stuff that is really going on.

        If that was the bent, they would not talk to you about the other stuff. How accurate what you get of course is an open question as the spin is alwyas there.

        Sadly Jon Ostwowers blog is gone, you go the inside information from the people on the ground, not the spin from up top.

        • To set the record straight on TW’s comment, I’ve been on Leahy’s “no fly” list three times during which he refused to talk to me at all because of things I’ve written. I’ve called out Airbus as well as Boeing many times over the years, including ridiculing Noel Fogeard’s “I know nothing” about the A380 delays. LNC has pointed out Airbus messaging shortcomings on A330ceo being better than the 787 on the economics promoted at the time and the need to dramatically improve the A380 if it was to remain competitive with the forthcoming 777X on economics. Both pieces upset Leahy greatly.

          It’s not often I take personal umbrage at what readers write, but this is one of those times.

          • I will apologize for the witting that could lead to Scotts impression.

            I have never read of the least bit or favoritism in Leehams postings. That applies to both Airbus and Boeing.

            I will stand by the aspect that politics are an extremely important part of a companies operation.

            At times they are the most important part.

            Leeham provides outstanding in information in their area. Not in others, but they are not in the business in those other areas.

            Nor would I expect any high level operative in Airbus or Boeing admit to any of their internal issues.

            Some of those like Jon’s Ostower writing of the firing of the Contract workers at Charleston that lead to another mess won’t come from management.

            That would be a case of “politics” affecting an operation.

            If I remember right, the Charleston manager decided they would save a few bucks during a so called manufacture lull (3 months) between 787-8 and production .

    • Comments like that further cements JL’s achievements and commitments to give airlines options to purchase superior aircraft from what was a monopoly.

      These things don’t come easy, mistakes are made but makes you wiser and stronger. But for some of us that knows it has its human cost.

      And if I may get synical, where’s BA’s A380, still a marvel of achievement that made EK the airline it is.

      • Emirate would be there all the same, just different.

        Flying 747-8I (grin)

  6. Be realistic – if there would be the Monopoly would we have CFRP planes, so much improved wings etc……

    We would not !

    • I don’t know we had a monopoly before.

      Douglas and then MD had a product line, not as extensive as Airbus has developed.

      Where MD would have gone if Airbus had not come along and killed them off?

      Is there really room for two competitors in this area?

      I have seen more than one situation where a person was making a decent living at what they were doing, another opened their doors and they both starved.

      Obviously Boeing is not starving.

      Equally obviously when you take 10-15 billions dollar gambles (when things work out, 25 to 33 when they don’t) that is a stunningly high risk area.

  7. This is a sie track but I think important.


    The link gives more detail and adds in information that I had not seen before.

    The Auto Pilot modes is new, the capability of the search vessel is stunning with 6 drones.

    In the shoes (I am just a smelly sneaker to Ben Sandiland new Air Jordans)

    The questions is if that was available for the original search why was it not used as vastly more capable than what they did use.

    The current flow is also extremely important as that was a key that I never got an answer to. It narrows down how far South it was (and removes huge areas of search being ruled out on that 7th arch regardless of the calculations ) – it clearly pushes it South of a Northern limit.

    Truly a case of this could not have been done any worse by all parties involved.

  8. Industry won’t be the same without Leahy. The guy is a legend. Great series Scott!

    The only sales people at Boeing who could give him a run for the money are Ray Conner and Keskar.

    It would be awesome if Scott could have a similar interview with Conner. He is retiring soon as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *