What’s the A330NEO got that others don’t?

September 16, 2014 on 8:41 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Price and that’s about it.

It’s got more than the old A330 in the sense that every vehicle enjoys a new, modern engine.  The A330 is positioned as being a still young aircraft when, in fact, it’s pretty old these days.  The technology that the A330/A340 airplanes got was solidly from the 1980’s and wasn’t that innovative even then.  Remember that it was designed to replace Airbus’ A300/A310 aircraft (partly) and designed to compete against the 767 and DC-10.

Airbus didn’t have its sights on the 777 which was a couple of years behind it in development.  In fact, the 777 was more a response to the A330/A340 and MD-11.

So the point I would make is this:  There is a reason why the 767 isn’t selling anymore.  Same for the 757.

There was also reason why Airbus wanted to sell an A330 Tanker to the US Air Force:  It would keep a production line running for a while.

If the A330NEO was as good as the 787, it wouldn’t be immediately advertised for considerably less money.  And for certain, if that kind of performance was what all airlines were looking for, Airbus wouldn’t have been strong armed into making the A350.  In fact, it’s notable that the original A350 was a lot more an A330NEO than anything else.

The A330NEO is a response to a few airlines who would like to have more A330 airplanes but with a little bit better price.  Delta, for instance, wants some.  A few other airlines will order them as well and if the A330NEO is done right, it might even be profitable for Airbus.

But it’s not a revolution.  It’s barely an evolution.  I strongly suspect it will be a 767-400 for Airbus which means that it will keep some customers happy and in the Airbus camp but let’s put away this talk that 1000 Airbus A330NEOs will be sold.  Only 1100 A330 airplanes have been delivered to date so far.

This is a bridge airplane to keep some people happy for a while so Airbus can figure out what to do with its product line gaps.  Presently, the A350 isn’t a 777 (new or old) and the smallest variant, the A350-800 is highly unattractive to customers because it offers no benefit over the A350-900.  Airbus has nothing new to fill the gap between the A321NEO and the A350-900 and that’s a big gap.

So, for now, the A330NEO will fill that gap.  Sort of.  Kind of.



Long Distance 787 Style

July 7, 2014 on 2:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Service | 2 Comments

I read a story from Forbes recently where the possibilities that the 787 opened up were discussed.  Specifically, how new routes to China were springing up now that the 787 was available to do “long and thin” routes for airlines.

United Airlines opened up a thrice weekly route from San Francisco to Chengdu (in the interior of China) that is 6857 miles in length.  Not nearly the maximum distance a 787 can fly but certainly a distance that isn’t flown often.  That is the equivalent of flying across the United States from coast to coast 3 times.

The reason that route is possible is because the 787 delivers seat costs that are less than much larger airliners (777, 747, A380) despite it being able to seat just over 200 people.  The United Airlines 787 seats just 219 people, for instance.

On that San Francisco – Chengdu route 40 years ago, the route would have been flown from San Francisco to some place such as Japan on a 747 where a smaller but still long-legged airliner such as the DC-8 would carry some passengers onwards to Chengdu, a distance of 2100 more miles.

That is the magic of airliners today:  direct routes instead of spoke-hub–hub-spoke.

It’s why airlines do want range and the idea that airlines will accept less range for a cheaper vehicle is somewhat suspect in my opinion.

It’s why I believe that the A380 is a niche airliner and will forever be a niche airliner.  Why should I fly from Dallas to Dubai to Mumbai on Emirates when I could theoretically hop on an American Airlines’ 787 and fly from DFW to Mumbai direct?  (And very doable on the 787-9, I might add.)

This is the quiet revolution of the 787.  It isn’t the carbon fibre or engines.  It’s the very cost effective airliner for such routes.

Emirates leaves Airbus with a black eye

June 13, 2014 on 12:51 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Emirates has cancelled its order for (70) Airbus A350 aircraft and that has left Airbus with a black eye.  It’s not a body blow to the program but it is an unhappy moment for Airbus and Airbus’ COO John Leahy whose best spin on the subject was that the 787 has had more cancellations over its program.  (The 787 has also been a program for years longer and has considerably more orders overall.)

The blow comes from the fact that Emirates is a good Airbus customer and it would appear that Emirates is rejecting the premise that the A350 is a solution for high density, long haul carriage.  The underlining of this conclusion would be Emirates’ large order for the 777-X.

The A350 clearly fits a need among airlines but as a product line, I continue to wonder if it hits the right mark.  When Airbus has to consider an A330NEO to slot underneath its A350, that isn’t good.  The A350 was originally supposed to be a kind of A330NEO.

The 787 has its product range in the 787-8, -787-9 and 787-10 and it joins that product range with the new 777-8 and -777-9 which sees Boeing providing a combined product family that spans 5 aircraft and a seat count ranging from 240 (3-class) to about 405 (3-class).  Pilots can transition between the two aircraft family in a single handful of days and that amounts to great flexibility for an airline.

Those 2 families also offer state of the art fuel efficiency and engines.  They are the advanced leap that airlines look for.

Airbus has the A330 (getting old no matter what Airbus thinks) and the A350 which will span a seat count from 270 (3 class) to 350 (3 class) and that’s pretty narrow and leaves a large gap for widebody long haul between 220 seats and 270 seats.  It also leaves a 60 seat gap at the upper end and Airbus’ only other answer is the mammoth A380 which already has at least one customer (Emirates) asking for a NEO.

It’s a black eye and the appropriate action on Airbus’ part is to better consider how it meets airlines needs for long and thin routes as well as long and thick at the upper end but below the A380.  Unfortunately, the A350 is already fixed in specifications and that leaves little maneuvering room.

Which leaves me thinking that the A350 was never well thought out from a strategic point of view.  First, it was going to be an A330NEO, then it was going to be an A350 and then it morphed into the A350XWB aimed at the 777 but without quite the revenue capabilities of a 777.

Hint:  Make sure you make money for your customers.  When the 777 is the darling of the party, give them a 777 or better, not a compromise.

It’s a black eye and one that other customers, particularly those in the Middle East who are voraciously ordering aircraft, will pay attention to.  It doesn’t “end” the A350 but it highlights Airbus’ diminished ability to serve its customers in the twin engine, widebody class.

And we need Airbus to do better than that.  Without Airbus, there really is no Boeing and vice versa.

ARJ-21 is coming!

May 26, 2014 on 11:25 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

And who cares?

China is and its very own aircraft manufacturer, COMAC, says it is about to deliver the first ARJ-21 aircraft to customers.

I suspect the customers cringed at the idea of having to take delivery.

The ARJ-21, for those of you who don’t know, is China’s attempt at a regional jet.  To be fair, the aircraft has a lot of US content in it in the form of avionics from Honeywell and Rockwell Collins as well as a GE engine (the CF34 used by many regional jets and which is being replaced with Pratt & Whitney GTF engines by other regional jet manufacturers.)

Nominally, the aircraft is designed to compete in the 70 to 100 seat class also known as Embraer and Bombardier country.  It won’t.

The airliner, despite China’s protestations to the contrary, is a copy of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series aircraft that was assembled in China as the MD-90 for a brief while.  Admittedly, Chinese MD-90s are reportedly just as good as any other but they were also made from kits.  It even will share the 5-abreast seating the DC-9/MD-80 series had.

It does have some new bits:  the airliner got a new wing courtesy of Antonov and “fly by wire” courtesy of Honeywell.  But if you think the latest generation of intellectual property was given to China for this airliner, you would be wrong.

The only companies who have ordered this airliner are Chinese airlines, Chinese lessors, an Indonesian airline, a Myanmar airline and GECAS.  I’m betting GECAS ordered its token 5 to keep doing business in China.

I’m somewhat surprised that North Korea or Cuba or Iran hasn’t ordered one.

I’m pretty sure the Myanmar order is political as this airline (Myanma Airways) also recently made a much more real order with GECAS for 6 Boeing 737-800 and 4 Boeing 737-MAX8 aircraft.  It already is leasing the Embraer 190AR.  One suspects that China felt it needed some “international” orders and went out and strongarmed a couple.

The Indonesian airline, Merpati Nusantara Airlines, does operate a Chinese airliner.  It operates the AVIC MA-60 which is a kind of revised Antonov which kind of looks like an ATR-42 turbo-prop.  This airline also has some old 737 aircraft.  Given what we know about the state of airlines in Indonesia, I think we can assume that this airline has ordered what it did simply because it couldn’t get airliners from anyone else.

Still, the ARJ-21 is important if for only one reason:  It’s a very educational exercise for China who will use it to build the also inferior COMAC C919.  The so called Boeing/Airbus competitor that China is already late on as well.

China won’t build a competitive airliner in this decade.  It probably won’t build one in the next decade either.  You can bet that if they stick with it, they will be building a competitive airliner in the decade after that.  The one thing that the ARJ-21 does signal is that China is serious about figuring out how to capture that aviation market which is theirs and a piece of the global market as well.

Who blinks?

May 13, 2014 on 4:54 pm | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

Both Airbus and Boeing have next generation updates to their single aisle products on track for delivery in the next few years.  The Airbus A320NEO is arguably the better seller over the 737MAX but both are succeeding well enough to continue sales for quite some time.

But who will blink first?

That is, who will build the next completely re-designed single aisle aircraft that will replace the Airbus A320NEO and Boeing 737MAX aircraft in the market?

In the greater scheme of things, I continue to believe that if Boeing had built a new 737 replacement, it would have ultimately won The Single Aisle Wars for a decade or more.  They would have sacrificed some sales today but . . . I think they would have cemented dominance in that market for years to come.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Airbus has been making the right calls lately and I think they’ve done a great job in estimating what the market wants as well as being willing to step forward and build what the market wants.  Boeing hasn’t shown much courage.

Yet, I think it will be Boeing who builds that next aircraft.  I think Airbus will focus on its A320NEO and I think their next project will be an A330NEO and they still have considerable work to finish on the A350 series aircraft.

Boeing has the 787-10 to complete which will be an unsatisfying derivative instead of a hit (it won’t have enough range/payload to really attract customers to it, in my opinion).  Nonetheless, the 787-10 will be pretty easy to bring to market.  They have the 737MAX to get done and that will be a low risk effort as well.  The 777-8/9 will also be a fairly low risk aircraft, too.

Boeing has all low risk programs with everything getting to market by 2020.   By 2020, Boeing will have realized that the 737MAX isn’t quite making it for the single aisle airlines.  To remain in business and truly engage with the airlines of the world, Boeing will have to commit to a new 737 replacement and it will have to push the envelope pretty far.

I believe that 737 replacement will start at about the 160 seat capacity (standard 2 class) and run up to 210 to 220 seat capacity.  I think all variants will have trans-continental range and I believe that at least the top two variants will have intercontinental range with ETOPS at introduction.

I do think there will be 3 variants but I also suspect many will speculate that there will be 4 variants.  My expectation will be:

Variant 1:  150 – 160 seats, 3600nm range

Variant 2:  180 – 190 seats, 4200nm range

Variant 3:  210-220 seats, 4200nm range

I think we’ll see a geared turbo fan a la Rolls Royce on the aircraft or a Pratt & Whitney engine.  What I don’t think we’ll see is a CFM engine.  The CFM design isn’t going to make the leap into the next generation.  It held up for the NEO and MAX but only barely.  The Pratt & Whitney is more likely the future.

What else will be different?  The fuselage will not be metal although it likely won’t be like the 787 either.  The wing will be much more efficient and the cockpit will be harmonious with the 787 and the 777-8/9.

What it won’t be is a 757.  As much as everyone hopes for another overpowered 757 to show up, it won’t be that.  Instead, it will be an aicraft uniquely designed to answer a question for 20 or more years.  It might look like a 757 but its design and requirements will make it entirely different.

But first someone has to blink.

A330NEO: Good Choice?

April 10, 2014 on 1:06 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | 4 Comments

Airbus may be embracing the idea of creating an A330NEO offering for customers and it would appear to have some acceptance from some customers.  To date, Airbus’ official approach has been to discount the A330 and show it as a cost conscious solution for airlines when balanced against the Boeing 787 offerings.

While airlines such as Delta seem to embrace the idea, one wonders if the investment in an re-engined widebody really is wise at this point.   Airbus doesn’t have the answer to the 787 and it appears the A350-800 won’t be a future answer either.  A lower cost development of an A330NEO would appear to offering something that slots in between the A321 and the A350.

I honestly do not think so.

The 787 clearly was the right size in the -8 variant as many, many airlines adopted this aircraft right from the beginning.  The -9 variant is similarly widely accepted.  Those two, together, are what Airbus has to compete against with the A330 or an A330NEO.  In some missions, it may do OK but it won’t be the long term answer that an investment in a widebody asks for.

It would be foolish for Delta to drive a multi-billion dollar investment in an aircraft that Boeing has a better and just as tested answer for when such an airplane would be available.

It’s become clear that a certain generation of airliners are nearing their end now.  The 767/757 is clearly on a rapid decline with passenger airlines and the A330 will begin that decline shortly.  It’s not a new airliner and the A350 series should have been slotted to replace it better.

Instead, Airbus made the mistake of Bigger is Better.  It’s made that mistake twice now.  Upgauging its offerings made the -800 less attractive to airlines because of performance, not because it was the wrong size.  The truth is that Airbus needed an range that spanned probably 4 aircraft and that’s hard to do.

In the competitive lineup, Airbus needed:

  • A350-700 | 787-8
  • A350-800 | 787-9
  • A350-900 | 787-10
  • A350-1000 | 777-200ER
  • A350-1100 | 777-300ER

There is no -700 or -1100 and the -800 is a bit heavy for the mission and no one wants it.  That leaves Airbus with (2) attractive medium sized widebody aircraft for customers and the A380.

That isn’t enough.  The A330 could be stop gap but it has to compete against a much more modern, efficient product lineup that Boeing will offer.  Look at Boeing’s potential now and over the next 10 years:

  • 787-8
  • 787-9
  • 787-10 / 777-200ER/LR
  • 777-300ER / 777-8
  • 777-9

Boeing wins.  It’s got the right sized aircraft with the right efficiency for a 20+ year investment that ranges the entire sweet spot for widebody aircraft.  Even the “older” 777 models in that line-up purportedly “beat” the corresponding A350 models on the “total” package of performance.  At worst, they hold their own against the A350 and that’s still pretty good.

Airbus needed 2 widebody families.  It has one and I think cobbling together a stop-gap measure for one of those in a A330NEO model is unwise.  The widebody technologies are here and they are useful now.  To not use them in an airliner would be folly, in my opinion.  They are maturing every day in the 787-A350-777 developments being done and that means that airlines in general will want those technologies rather than designs that date back to the late 1980’s.


Hell No! IAM votes against Boeing

November 14, 2013 on 12:36 pm | In Aircraft Development | 3 Comments

The IAM Local 751 has voted against the contract extension negotiated with Boeing and which was recently described as “crap” by the Local President involved in negotiating the contract.

The vote was very decisive in rejecting the contract.

There is a strong belief that IAM membership and local leadership believe there is a better deal to be had here and that new negotiations will begin anew.  I think there will be political pressure on Boeing to come back to the table.  Exceptional political pressure.

Ultimately, Boeing probably will get in a room with the union and it will probably have a serious conversation.

I also think Boeing is going to have serious conversations with a wide variety of interested parties across the country.  And I think several of those serious conversations will carry much more enthusiasm on Boeing’s part.

The union wants what it wants and sees givebacks on things like pensions as a step too far.  Maybe it is, for them.

But the landscape of the United States is littered with former employees whose unions resisted change too much on things like pensions.   And the landscape contains a lot of bodies of union leadership who did not embrace the need for a new model for business between corporations and unions.

I’m looking at you, Tom Wroblewski.

You might get elected for another term by being dramatic and tearing up contracts symbolically while describing them as “crap”.  But who do you lead in 8 or 10 years when yet more productions lines have been established in other locations that are Right To Work states?

And, more importantly, what do you say to the machinist who had a great job and who would have still had a superior manufacturing job who now has to go through job retraining and do a service industry job?  Or the guy who has to move to California or Alabama or Georgia or Texas to find another aerospace job?  Or who just can’t find a job under any circumstances?

How do you justify yourselves to the unions at airlines who’ve given up a whole lot more than you to keep the very airlines who buy your products alive?

It’s notable that it took 2 bankruptcies and one near bankruptcy in the car industry for unions to wake up and make a better deal to keep those jobs in the United States.  It was a scary, traumatic time but 5 years later, that industry is healthy, building better cars than they have in 40 years and there are new jobs being created for the first time ever.

No, they aren’t $35/hour jobs that pay full pensions and no cost health benefits while the worker screws a dashboard to a frame.  But they’re good, valued jobs that compared favorably anywhere.

There are two messages to unions in the car industry and its recovery.  I hope that both are heeded.

There was a time when all of Boeing’s leadership was tied to the Seattle community.  That is no longer the case and really hasn’t been the case for a long, long time.  If unions believe that Boeing can’t leave, they are only kidding themselves.  If unions think that because there has always been a deal, there always will be a deal, they are kidding themselves.   It won’t end today or tomorrow but it will end in a decade.

This is a billion dollar business that has to compete in a highly visible, highly competitive global landscape.

So, I’ll offer this final comment to the IAM in the Seattle area for thought and dialogue:

Will the last IAM member in Seattle please turn out the lights when they leave?

Hey! Where would you build the 777-X?

November 10, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | 2 Comments

If the Boeing 777-X doesn’t get built in Seattle, where does it get built?  Some think that Charleston, South Carolina is a shoe in, I do not.  I think Charleston, South Carolina has some real potential and I’m sure that Boeing is going to look at it but let’s not forget that the 787 manufacturing line in Charleston has a way to go before it looks like a Boeing line.

Some think that Long Beach, California has a chance since Boeing is shutting down the C-17 line there.  This simply proves that California’s laws on marijuana are the laxest in the nation.

The facilities in Long Beach are very old and were never efficient.  Not even in the 1960’s when Douglas built hundreds of aircraft there each at a loss.  Trust me when I say that even the McDonnell Douglas managers who are now in charge at Boeing don’t want to ever go back to Long Beach for anything.

I think San Antonio has a real shot at this line.  It has the right airport, the right railroads and the right weather.  And Rick Perry.  San Antonio has a governor who’ll sell his soul to bring a manufacturing line like Boeing’s 777 to Texas.  If Europe thinks they’ve seen everything when it comes to tax subsidies, they haven’t see Rick Perry spring into action.

Wherever it lands, I honestly don’t see it going to Seattle and I think that is because the unions answer to every overture from the company is to freak out and threaten the company with more financial impact.

Who puts up with that today?  Not many.  Boeing knows that, in the long run, finding other places to do business means it has a better chance of being cost effective in the airline game.

This contract is crap!

November 9, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

IAM local 751 President Tom Wroblewski symbolically tore up a contract that was negotiated (by him in part) with Boeing to keep the 777-X work in the Seattle area.  While he did so, he said “I know this is a piece of crap”.

And then he promised to try to see if he could prevent a vote on the contract.

The IAM local may well be counting on holding sway with Boeing by virtue of everyone remembering their damaging strike from several years ago and, if so, I think their crazy.

Boeing learned from that strike.  Good or bad, Boeing has figured out that diversifying may cost a lot but it may not cost as much as the IAM Local 751.

The rhetoric being used by the local union officials is so hateful, so damaging that I honestly believe this contract is not only lost but that Boeing will definitely seek to put the 777-X line in a more friendly state.

Others think it’s bluff, I do not.  Not with the current leadership at Boeing.  There is a bad rift between Boeing and its local unions that financial managers see as an ongoing impact that must be solved permanently.

In short, I think the IAM Local 751 has just lost their membership quite a few jobs over the next 10 years.  Even if the union approves the contract at this point, Boeing knows what the union leadership is going to do and it can’t have endless tolerance for ultimatums from the union.

Airbus says to make the seats wider

October 28, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline Seating | 1 Comment

Airbus has gone on record saying that there should be a minimum standard for seat width on international flights and that width should be 18″.

Notice that Airbus has no opinion on seat pitch (think legroom) whatsoever.

The reason Airbus wants an 18″ standard is that it downgrades Boeing aircraft without impacting Airbus aircraft.  Airbus tends to build its airplanes a touch wider than Boeing but not wide enough for another seat row.  This means that Airbus is perceived as being a little bit more comfortable.

This comes at a cost, however.  Airbus aircraft is typically heavier and has more drag on a per seat basis than Boeing aircraft which are really designed around a 17″ to 17.5″ seat width.

Boeing can claim a 10 abreast seating configuration for its 777 airplanes whereas Airbus has just a 9 abreast configuration for its A350 aircraft.  If 18″ is the new standard, Airbus will remain 9 abreast but Boeing would have to downgrade its claims to 9 abreast.

The truth is that many airlines do operate the 777 in a 9 abreast configuration today.  Some have gone to a 10 abreast configuration (and are largely despised for it.)

I can’t say that I disagree that an 18″ wide seat is far more appropriate for an international flight.  Hey, let’s go whole hog and ask for 18″ wide seats with a minimum seat pitch of 32″ for an international flight.

It’s all academic anyway because there is zero enforcement authority for this anywhere.

It’s Airbus being an upstart and getting attention again.  Positive attention that cost them not a single penny.


Yak- 242

October 27, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | 2 Comments

The airliner being developed in Russia and branded as the Irkut MS-21 is a Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 competitor.  Well, in theory anyway.  The airliner is being developed to fit into the same capacity / range of those two product lines but it is a long haul and who knows if the airliner will ever be truly launched into production.

The Yak-42 was a three engine rough runway, t-tail design built in the hundreds by Russia during the Soviet Era.  For a Soviet aircraft, it was a pretty good airplane.  It resembled a 727 and had roughly the same capacity of a 717-200.

The actual progression was Yak-40 (a regional 3 engine airliner capable of rough fields and carrying about 40 people), then the Yak-42 and a Yak-46 and Yak-242 were conceived and even went through design exercises before being cancelled.

Now they want to change the name to the defunct Yak-242 and allege that the MS-21 is derived from that study.  It’s a branding thing.

The problem is that the Yak has no positive brand image anywhere but in Russia.  No one thinks of the Yak-42 and says “Yeah, they should built something like that again.”  Calling the airliner Irkut MS-21 put distance between it and every other bad experience made in Russia.

But Russia clings to things and in this case it’s going to cling to the name Yak and believe that that name is going to win.

It won’t but that may be moot anyway as it remains to be seen whether or not Russia can build an airliner that interests the world.  So far, the Sukhoi Superjet ain’t.

Another moment on the JAL Airbus order

October 10, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Richard Aboulafia has written a scathing criticism of Boeing’s loss in his October newsletter which finds that Boeing’s management lost a contest which was entirely Boeing’s to lose and that’s not nothing.

Particularly when it comes from Aboulafia.

Aboulafia criticizes Boeing for much the same things I did just 2 days ago and the only notable part of that is that it is easy to make that criticism at this point.  The evidence has become obvious.

Next up is what will Boeing do to keep ANA in the Boeing fold?  If this were Boeing in even the early 2000’s, I would bet on them finding a way to keep ANA in the 777-X.  A deal would be made and a crisis averted.

I think the fight for ANA business will be epic and I think Airbus’ John Leahy will be smirking at Boeing in a very justified way.  Leahy and his team have spent 3 years taking a par product and a company that is simply executing in an acceptable manner and parlayed that into big wins.

There used to be one thing I would identify as the key to Southwest Airlines’ success.  They did exactly what they said they would do.  They didn’t promise sunshine and roses and the world’s greatest experience onboard their airplanes.  They simply promised to try hard to be nice to you, try hard to get you where you are going on time and to do it at a price that struck most as reasonable.

Southwest made no extraordinary achievements in winning its very loyal customer base.  It performed no superhuman tricks to beat its competitors.  It didn’t even promise a reserved seat and it still won.

That’s what Airbus is doing.  They’re winning with a management that is merely setting reasonable schedules, designing reasonable aircraft and doing it all with no great promise of huge advancement.  They doing what they say they are going to do and the airlines are noticing.

The question is . . . has Boeing noticed that?


Airbus wins JAL order

October 8, 2013 on 12:43 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline News | No Comments

Airbus has managed to land an order from JAL for (18) A350-900s, (13) A350-1000s and another 25 options for the A350.

This from an airline which operates the 787-8 and 777 and which has a decades long relationship with Boeing.  This isn’t a shot across Boeing’s bow.  This is a cannonball going through the hull with water spilling into the engine compartment.

JAL is burned by the 787 and is under the control of entrepreneurs who want operational success more than a good deal from Boeing.  Boeing has had years to take care of JAL as a customer.  Even looking in from the outside, JAL appears to not have been given any more consideration than the average Boeing customer.

And the 787 is a pain in the ass to its operators.  Yes, some operators are being overly dramatic but let’s not ignore the fact that not a single operator is publicly singing the praises of the 787 yet.  Not a one.

If there was such a thing as a safe Boeing customer, it was JAL.  This is the signal moment where everyone realizes that Boeing is not only vulnerable in the marketplace, it’s declining.

Boeing had a chance to kill Airbus with the 787 and lost that chance to a 4 year production delay.  Even if you consider all the old-time Boeing people cautioning that the airplane needed to be birthed in its own time, 4 years is one hell of a long delay for a company that, you know, is supposed to know how to build aircraft.

Boeing had a chance to throw Airbus onto the ropes of the ring by announcing an all new 737 replacement family that would cover from 737-700 to 757-200 seating options.  Instead, Airbus won the hearts and minds of airlines with a warmed over redesign of the A320 aircraft.  Boeing had to respond with an aircraft that doesn’t win many hearts and minds of any airline.

Boeing even had a chance to badly hurt the A350’s sales by announcing a 777 upgrade or replacement and, instead, dithered along until that was a bit late as well.

Boeing chose to build the 747-8i on the idea that Boeing had customers that would buy Boeing no matter what.   They built an aircraft that in the hearts and minds of customers was 40 years old.  That was refreshed some but which really didn’t fit a need.  They followed the idea that Boeing customers will buy Boeing and since the 747-8 is a Boeing product, it will work out OK.  Billions of dollars have been wasted on that aircraft as well as the time and energy of good engineers.  Imagine what would have happened to Airbus if Boeing had focused those resources on a full 737 replacement instead.

Boeing is losing this game.  It’s losing the game to Airbus and it is going to start losing its game to Bombardier.  Warmed over designs and delay in taking the next bold step is killing that company in ways that will be painful to watch.  This is the legacy of McDonnell Douglas and this is exactly how McD lost the game against Boeing and Airbus.  Exactly how it was lost.  There are no real differences here.

Apologize for Boeing if you want but before you do . . . name one strong decision that yielded immediate and positive results for Boeing in the last 8 years.  Just name one.


I’ll wait.

787 Return To Service

April 19, 2013 on 3:26 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline News | No Comments

The FAA has approved the design change made by Boeing to address lithium ion battery risks on the 787.  The FAA will make a directive on how the fix should be made and it will make FAA inspectors available to expedite the repairs.  Boeing has had kits and staff ready to deploy to customers for making these fixes and I would imagine that Boeing has told them “go”.

A couple of observations:

1)  Boeing will destroy its reputation for many years to come with both the public and airlines if this fix proves to be inadequate.  I would want to be very, very sure and very certain that those batteries are contained against everything short of an act of god.  Spin and damage control will not fix that problem.

2)  Nothing that I can so far find has any guidance on what kind of ETOPS the FAA will permit with the 787.  There was, originally, speculation that the FAA and other agencies would be inclined to not grant enough ETOPS time to be useful to 787 users.   If this fix works, then it should not have an impact on ETOPS.  If the original ETOPS granted is amended to be something considerably less, then I think that reflects a lack of confidence on the part of the FAA.

I would expect a practical return to service for the airlines being some time at the end of May or the first of June.

777-X and GE

March 26, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

Rolls Royce has told people that it has lost the opportunity to be on the 777-X models and we know that Pratt & Whitney has been “out” for some time.  Customers are probably not thrilled with the prospect of a single engine offering for the two 777-X models.

Competition helps a lot although Rolls Royce has impacted itself by aggressively retaining engine overhaul and maintenance for itself even in the used market.  RR says it doesn’t want to be second fiddle to GE and I say it wouldn’t have been.  There are a great number of 777 aircraft out there today using the Rolls Royce Trent engines.  In fact, some would even say that they were the preferred engine for 777-200ER.

Boeing likes the partnership because it keeps complexity down and profits up.  GE likes it because it gets to enjoy a kind of dominance in this class of airliner for as much as 20 years.   And everyone makes money.

But airlines should question whether or not this is what they want.  Even if GE is able to provide exactly the engine everyone wants, competition here would be wise.   These engines cost so much that two of them can exceed the price of a 737.  That’s a lot of money to spend on two engines.

Boeing is working too much on these partnerships, in my opinion.  It needs newer partnerships with both Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney.  These companies have something to offer in terms of different approaches and viewpoints.

For example, how is that the Pratt & Whitney GTF isn’t on the 737Max?  There certainly will be more than enough of those aircraft produced to justify two engine choices.  It’s notable that GE controls the Leap56 engine.

The authorization to offer the 777 to customers will come within a couple of weeks and Boeing will start soliciting orders for the 777-X airplanes aggressively.  Airlines would be wise to stand firm and ask for two engine choices before committing to orders.  That’s something that could save them hundreds of million of dollars over the life of the 777-X family.

Let’s talk about the 777

March 19, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

I would argue that of the airliners introduced over the past 25 years, the 777 is probably by far the most influential airliner to become available.  In the fashion of the “old” Boeing, it was made in a variety of styles to meet a variety of needs and just has kept on selling and selling throughout the years.  Even today, Airbus doesn’t have the best competitor possible for this aircraft.

There are some people who’ve shunned this aircraft over the years and, in my opinion, paid the price for it.  It was noticeable that Lufthansa, amid its order for a large batch of A320 aircraft, ordered (6) 777-300ER aircraft for its SWISS subsidiary.  Lufthansa famously stuck with the Airbus A340 and 747 instead of incorporating the 777 into its fleet.

QANTAS has also studiously ignored the 777 despite market conditions changing so dramatically in favor of using the 777 that I now wonder if someone at Airbus has compromising photos of the entire Board of Directors for QANTAS.  The 777 is an airliner that would have served QANTAS extremely well domestically, regionally and in long haul guise.

The 777 could have served the high frequency, relatively short haul routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as some routes across to Perth and New Zealand.  The original 777-200 “domestic” co8uld have served all these routes in a very able manner.

The 777-300ER was the answer to needs on the Kangaroo route as well as to northern Asian destinations in China and Japan.  Why an airline such as QANTAS would continue to use the 747-400 exclusively when it could have greatly benefited from the 777 is a bit baffling to me.  While oil prices weren’t sky high until quite recently, the fuel cost argument for the 777 was really made successfully right from the beginning.  Even when fuel was cheap(er) in the 1990s, those who bought the 777 knew they had made the right choice.

Now we hear that Boeing is about to give Authorization to Offer the next 777 series aircraft and this means, potentially, that the 777 may well have as long a history in commercial aviation as the 747 with far greater numbers sold.  Any airline who ignores the very real capability of this airliner does so at its own peril.  Long haul routes will be based more and more on frequency in most cases and more on “point to point” arguments going forward.  With just a few exceptions, they will not be based upon the traditional hub-and-spoke model and certainly not based on trunk routes using the largest aircraft possible.

Yes,  a few A380/747 routes will remain out there and that’s right and appropriate.  But the world will belong to airlines who have the ability to fly routes such as Dallas-Sydney or Houston-Johannesburg or Denver-Hong Kong with the lowest costs.  The lowest costs will come from the next generation of airliners such as the 787, A350 and 777-X.

The C-Series and Seating

March 11, 2013 on 1:01 pm | In Aircraft Development | 3 Comments

Bombardier’s CS-100/300 aircraft are nearing the p0int where the first test aircraft will be taking flight in a few months.  Last week, an unveiling of sorts took place to show off the aircraft which, up to this point, has actually stayed on time more than most aircraft being developed today.

I had a few thoughts on what I have seen and heard so far.  Wow, that aircraft is big compared to anything made by Bombardier before.  It  doesn’t look like a regional jet, it looks like a mainstream jet with mainstream intentions.

Apparently Bombardier has been running around and promising potential buyers that they can make the aircraft a little longer and manage to cram in as many as 160 seats on the airplane at 28″ seat pitch.  This is sold as feasible because a rather large executive with Bombardier can “fit” into these seats they are planning at that pitch.  I would like to point out that even I can fit into such a situation.  The real question is whether or not I will willing subject myself to such a seat pitch.  And do we not recognize that a Bombardier executive might just have an incentive to say it’s a dandy thing to experience?

Consider that the plan is to cram 160 seats into this aircraft which is 127 feet long and compare that to today’s American Airlines MD-82/83 aircraft which is 147 feet long and which has just 140 seats on it.  Even if you lengthen the CS300 a touch (which they plan to do) it still doesn’t really get you where you need to be.

I have a feeling that Bombardier is already discovering that the CS-100 might be a touch undersized and that the CS-300 might need to be a bit longer at the cost of range as well.  Both these aircraft nominally are capable of trans-continental flights in North America and I would argue that that range is just a hair too much for those aircraft.

This is a good looking aircraft and it sounds like it’s coming together very well on the whole and despite high use of composites.  I would suggest that Bombardier get it built, get it in the air and start showing the economics to airlines quickly.  There is no need to grow into Boeing/Airbus territory with this aircraft.  Airlines will buy this aircraft if it can offer 110-130 seats with the same dispatch reliability as a Boeing/Airbus with the promised improved seat costs.

This is an airliner that AA, United and Delta all need in the domestic United States.  This is an airliner that, if it proves itself, Southwest should be looking at as well.  Have faith in yourself and recognize that until you can show people that this airliner meets or exceeds promises, there will be some skepticism.  Bombardier is entering new territory here and it needs to remain confident in itself in the meantime.

How do small communities get air service in the future?

March 9, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Service | No Comments

William Swelbar has a white paper posted on his blog about small community air service and the merger of American Airlines and US Airways that has inspired me to some thoughts.   The essential point (of interest to me) among his many well thought out points is this:  It isn’t the LCC carriers that provide this service.  It’s the network carriers that do so and we have lately denied that air service through slot divestitures to LCC carriers.

On the one hand, he’s entirely right.  On the other hand, I question who “deserves” air carrier service in today’s world.  My own view of the history behind this is that there are cities where such service is, in my opinion, not justified today.

Let’s not forget that small communities were originally served with some regularity in the past due to a few primary circumstances which are very different today.

First, fuel costs are monumentally more than they were even 20 years ago.  Low fuel costs allowed for a competitive fare to these communities via available aircraft that just doesn’t exist today.  Airlines are constrained by the fact that sub-50 seat jets are un-economical to use in just about any circumstance today and there are no desirable replacement aircraft in that category on the way.

Second, those many of those communities needed that air service because overland transport to major cities was very poor and even non-existent at that time.  Today, we have not only a full major interstate highway system but every state in the continental US has an excellent secondary highway system.  It’s difficult to find a place in the continental US today that is truly remote.  In most cases, people are no more than 1 to 2 hours away from air service at the worst.

Third, we don’t encourage this service the right way.  We do subsidize it under certain circumstances and do so for routes that, in my opinion, defy imagination as to why their subsidized.  At least quite frequently.  What we don’t do is subsidize industry to come up with a cost effective, profit earning solution to providing the service.  Even airlines receiving subsidies today look at those routes and realize that even if they are earning a modest profit, greater profits can be earned elsewhere and they go to earn those.

I think we need a program that encourages an airplane manufacturer to come up with what I would call the Essential Air Service Airplane.  This is an aircraft that require no greater than 500nm range fully loaded and no more than 30 seats and should travel at speeds comparable to ATR and Q400 aircraft.  They should be ruggedly reliable for dispatch so that they do not strand themselves at outstations and they should be capable of rough weather service.

Survey the network airlines and ask them what such an aircraft looks like to them in definition.  Create a government RFP for such an aircraft and contract the network carriers into committing to a minimum number of purchases and let the markets go to work.  Frankly, I would like to see Bombardier and/or Embraer work this problem themselves because I think such an airliner has potential in places such as Africa, India and parts of Asia and Australia.  Small and efficient can be very profitable if it is reliable.  Look at Azul in Brazil and you’ll see just how that works out.

In these conversations, I pick on cities here in Texas like Waco quite often.  Waco does not justify high frequency flights to DFW airport (and Houston Intercontinental) with 50 seat jets.  It’s far too close to Dallas for that.  But if you had a small essential service airliner defined above, that airliner could actually serve the frequencies that exist today as fast or, possibly, faster than the 50 seat jet and potentially with greater reliability.

Don’t build this aircraft with too much range.  Keep it simple and constrained to true regional routes.  It can’t be a mistress to the short haul, small community markets and also mistress to the long and thin markets.

Make it large enough to inspire confidence and I think we know enough about building such aircraft today that we can make it possible to walk an aisle in this aircraft without feeling like you’re crawling into a cave.  Make sure it can serve these routes from hot and high locations such as Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix.  That means some slats and flaps most likely but do not make this aircraft a STOL aircraft.  The airports it would serve today are all adequate for a small aircraft configured to meet these needs with efficient wings.  STOL aircraft sound great until you realize they are rarely needed but they always have the penalty of being built with draft that can’t be avoided.

If I’m Embraer or Bombardier, I would look to build this aircraft in Wichita, Kansas.  There is enough expertise there, enough facilities and I’ll bet that Kansas would be looking to make a heck of a deal on taxes these days.  Use modern avionics but design it to be simple and easy to qualify on.  Make it the airliner that future jet pilots start on.  Make it forgiving which will help some in making it rugged and reliable.  Use as many Commercial Off The Shelf components as possible and go to Garmin to build your flight deck instead of going with a pricey system from someone else.

Make it so that a network airline and/or regional airline can purchase this aircraft and operate it profitably with oil at $130 / barrel right from the start.  Offer loans at low interest rates to ensure capital costs are low enough to be attractive to these same airlines.  Get airports to offer low cost fees for using such airliners to their airports.  Convince those same airports that these airliners are their future and not their shame.  Keep the jet ego out of this conversation.

This airliner can be built and it can be profitable for the manufacturer and the operator.  It needs a sponsor and while I readily admit that it might not offer as much net profit as a 737 sold at list, just how many of those 737s do we think are selling for list prices anyway?  It is entirely possible that Boeing and Airbus are now making profit on lease deals rather than on the sale of an aircraft.

This aircraft needs someone of vision and leadership to see it done.  That person needs to be able to go to 8 to 10 airline heads in the US and convince them that not only can it be done in a timely manner, it can be done cost effectively as well.  Those guys still exist but they are a bit harder to find.   And it doesn’t have to be Bombardier or Embraer either.  This could be Cessna or maybe even the new Beechcraft.  Maybe it needs to be a partnership between the two companies.  Partnerships have been very good in some instances.  I point to the GE/SNECMA relationship as just one example.

Airlines are dysfunctional organizations.  You won’t get them to provide that air service by offering them the chance to break even or make a modest profit.  They won’t necessarily band together and ask for a new airliner either.  But if you deliver that baby on their doorstep, they just might adopt it and call it their own.

Good Point

March 7, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

I found a blog entry on an Australian airline blog called Plane Talking that, I think, has found an important discrepancy in Boeing’s PR campaign for the 787.  As someone who actually works for an Aerospace Company, I wanted to explore things a bit more.   Boeing’s Commercial Aircraft President Ray Conner has been saying “Boeing has compiled 200,000 hours of analysis and testing on what might have gone wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.”

A significant portion of my own job is to manage resources on engineering efforts.  200,000 hours of engineering effort would translate into an effort that would ordinarily executed over 2 to 4 years and by roughly 30 to 40 engineers.  That is a non-trivial effort.  Let me re-state the facts:  200,000 hours of engineering time would translate into a project of about 3 years consuming from 30 to 40 engineers.

So, how did Boeing accomplish all of this in just about 1 month?  Let’s assume that engineers worked 7 day weeks and 12 hour days for about 1 month.  That would mean about 560 to 580 engineers attacked this problem over the course of a month to find, analyze and suggest a strong interim fix with testing behind it in just one month.

Sorry but there is no way that Boeing stood up between 500 and 600 engineers virtually overnight to attack that problem and have a solution.  It would take Boeing a weeks of meetings to allocate that many engineers to such an effort. So either 200,000 engineering hours haven’t gone into solving this problem or, if they have, they started a long time ago long before the battery problem was highlighted by two incidents days apart.

Credibility of Boeing is sinking fast.

Boeing and Yuasa disagree

March 1, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | 1 Comment

Just as Boeing pursues an interim solution to the 787 battery problem, battery maker Yuasa publicly disagrees with the issue behind the battery failures.


Boeing believes their interim solution solves a battery failure problem.  That is, they believe by containing the battery, they solve the safety of flight issue.  This does suggest a belief that the battery design may be at fault.

Yuasa, on the other hand, believes that the batteries it has examined show clear signs of an over-charge which pushes fault outside the battery itself and onto the control system(s).  Boeing says that their quadruple redudant systems would prevent such a thing from happening.

My thoughts:  If this were a fundamental battery design flaw, I think we would have seen more battery problems much earlier in this program.  The charging system and other power systems are complex and reportedly do cause some pain to the operators.

Why would a charging system fail now as opposed to during test flights?  Conditions.  Operating aircraft will be subjected to greater loads, real world power consumption profiles, etc.

The greater issue is this:  The battery maker and airframe maker are disagreeing in public.  Goodbye interim solution, in my opinion.

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