Aeronautics has always been a favourite subject of mine, and so it seemed an obvious choice when selecting a case study for my series of lectures on Innovation and Design Management. A classic example of whether it is better to be first or second to market with a product is the story of De Havilland’s ‘Comet’, the first civilian jet aircraft to enjoy commercial success in the 1950s. All was going well for the UK manufacturer until a series of fatal crashes led to concerns about the Comet’s long-term safety, and panic set in.
Enter their American rival, Boeing, who had been waiting in the wings while developing their own jetliner, the Boeing 707. With the advantage of a few years in which to study and improve on the engine, the body and the interior, it was almost inevitable that they would produce a superior plane. Over the years, there were more fatalities from Boeing crashes than De Havilland – but that was because Boeing had seized the market for all time. Bad news for the British aero industry, and bad news for a die-hard plane spotter like me.
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