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.

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.


I have a problem with the picture being painted

March 26, 2014 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service | No Comments

There is an opinion piece written by former Captain Les Abend on CNN’s website opining that the best explanation for what happened to MH370 is that there was a catastrophic event aboard the airliner that disabled all comms and then the pilots and that the plane simply flew itself until fuel exhaustion crashed the airliner.  You can read this opinion HERE.

Let’s review the ideas one by one:

1)  The airliner had a fire or similar event that disabled all radios and communications.

An event disabling all 5 radios would almost have to involve the cockpit being removed from the airliner.  We know this didn’t happen.  Boeing has built redundancy into these aircraft but has also gone to fair trouble to ensure that a problem in one part of the plane doesn’t take out all of a system.  Antennas are separated.  Power sources are different.  You really cannot lose all the radios simultaneously without something literally destroying the aircraft.  Could they go out one by one?  Yes.

2)  He suggests that the callout of 35,000 feet is what pilots do to remind ATC to give them a higher clearance.  Well, that’s true but what Mr. Abend neglects to mention is that 35,000 feet is a fairly high altitude and to go much higher so early in the flight wasn’t necessarily practical.  To make the callout several times when already at a very high altitude and when there was no weather to clear, is suspect.

3)  It’s suggested that a smoldering fire began to insidiously take out comms slowly, one by one.  What this ignores is the fact that the electronics bay doesn’t just provide communications.  It houses systems for the instrumentation of the entire aircraft.  A “smoldering fire” would have been taking out other systems that would have caused alerts left and right.  This aircraft is also a “fly by wire” system and those electronics reside, in part, in the electronics bay as well.   Fires aren’t selective in what they impact.  And electronics bays are heavily monitored for fire and smoke.

4)  A degraded autopilot maintains course to the next waypoint and then remains in “heading mode” at high altitude.  Pilots to do not stay at 35,000 feet in an emergency that they have to get an airplane onto the ground.  To the contrary, they descend, work the checklists and start communicating their descent so that they don’t collide with other aircraft.  Furthermore, the “nearest airport” wasn’t actually southwest and on the other side of the island.  One with a really long runway was in that direction.  Other commercial airports with sufficient runway length for landing existed.

Navigation of the airliner is dependent on many systems that include the autopilot and instrumentation such as GPS and other nav aids.  Absent these aids, that airliner will become lost.  A smoldering fire that disables pilots, doesn’t continue to smolder without affecting the airframe for 6 to 7 more hours.
I realize that its hard for commercial pilots to accept that a fellow pilot would do something nefarious.  Yet. . . . we know that that has happened many times over the course of commercial aviation history.  It happens.  it’s ugly and it’s terrible.  But it happens.

I also realize that it’s nice to make pilots out to be heros who die in action.  Yet, we also know that not every pilot is a hero.  There are limits to every person.

We don’t know what happened.  And we won’t know what happened over the Gulf of Thailand ever.  Not in the cockpit.  The voice recorder doesn’t record that long.  We will have some record of what was programmed, what the flight control inputs were and what was alarming and what wasn’t.  It will tell a story but it won’t tell the whole story.  It will tell the “what” but not the “why”.

And only if we find the aircraft.  But suggesting that this airliner was a ghost ship that crashed is foolish and fantastical does no one any good in looking at this event.

MH370 and the data

March 25, 2014 on 8:44 am | In Airline News | 1 Comment

What I’m about to write could be seen as harsh but it needs to be written.

When people talk about their being no data about this flight, we have nothing but data.  In fact, we are in the unusual position of being able to only talk about the facts that we have rather than speculating on emotions and personalities.

Emotions and personalities will come later and actually be an important part of the conversation and investigations.

But today, when people say that there is no evidence. . .

You are wrong.  There is nothing but evidence.  And the evidence says this aircraft was commandeered, flown by programmed waypoints at high altitude (30,000 or more) to  a point in the southern Indian Ocean approximately 1200 to 1800 miles west of Australia where it ended flight.

Because it is impossible, not merely improbable, for an aircraft such as the Boeing 777 to land on an ocean and keep afloat, all passengers must be presumed as dead.  The southern Indian Ocean is no place for human beings without protectioin, shelter and sturdy watercraft, they would not survive.  They would not survive even on a life raft.  Hurricanes have passed over this area already during this search.  This is not a hospitable place even for United States naval vessels.

For those who think the 777 can survive a water landing such as the A320 that landed in the Hudson River:  there couldn’t be a greater difference in the circumstances between two such events.  Civil commercial aircraft are not designed and are not capable of surviving a landing in the seas and weather offered by the southern Indian Ocean.  This area is considered one of the most dangerous areas of ocean in our world.

For those of you who believe this must be a hijacking and that this aircraft and its passengers are being kept hostage somewhere. . . you only do a disservice to the loved ones of those passengers to promote hope with this theory.

The science and mathematics used to track down this airplane are irrefutable.  Even if we did not have such information, hostage takers don’t take 230+ people and hold them incommunicado for 2+ weeks.  In fact, you really can’t hold a 777 without it being seen for 2+ weeks.

This aircraft went into the southern Indian Ocean.  All lives were lost and it’s a very sad moment for their families and friends.

Emirates Order in Dubai

November 27, 2013 on 2:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Emirates Airlines, in Dubai, has made another exceptionally large order for airliners.  I usually criticize the airline for its A380 orders but I have some reactions to Emirates purchases on the Boeing side this time too.

First up, Emirates has ordered another 50 A380 airliners.  They currently have 39 delivered and another 101 ordered.  The configuration used on these airliners offers 517 seats and that is a lot of capacity.  Each of those A380 aircraft represents 3.8 Boeing 737-700 airplanes.  The growth required to support this fleet alone is something I continue to believe that Emirates will not be able to sustain.  If each A380 flies just one flight per day, that is 140 flights a day for the A380.

Who here thinks that there are 140 city pairs that justify an A380?  How about 70 city pairs?

And to make matters more interesting, Emirates has ordered (115) 777-9X and (35) 777-8X aircraft.  The former should be capable of just in excess of 400 passengers.  To be true, Emirates has previously announced its intention to retire some “classic” 777 aircraft of which a small portion of its (119) 777 fleet is comprised.

The size of this airlines’ fleet in 10 years and all invested in widebody, high capacity aircraft is nothing short of fantasy.  The airline has grown today but it won’t beat everyone everywhere all of the time.  Emirates is planning to add widebody aircraft to its fleet on a basis similar to what Southwest and Ryanair do with the 737.   There are orders for 200+ aircraft seating more than 400 passengers each.

I don’t think it is sustainable in the long run.  Time will tell.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Oh My

October 17, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline Service, Airports | 2 Comments

American Airlines has announced that it is adding two new routes from DFW to Hong Kong and Shanghai and has done so with great fanfare.

The Shanghai route will use American’s 777-200ER but the Hong Kong route will make use of AA’s newest 777, the 777-300ER.

When American Airlines ordered the 777-300ER a few years ago, it felt like a very, very good decision.  In fact, in some ways it simply defied imagination that AA was the US airline that finally decided to buy the -300ER (none had done so at that time and none have made such an order today.)

I’m a fervent believer that international routes will trend towards longer, thinner routes.  I do not believe that either the 747 or the A380 has a very strong place in the airline world today.  But I also think that the 777 fits neatly into that high capacity, long route structure that so many airlines are using to make big money from.

And American is clearly doing very, very well using the -300ER.  So well that one does wonder at the reticence to purchase being shown by both United and Delta.  Yes, each still has the 747-400 and I would argue that neither is well served by that aircraft.  Particularly in light of the age and the changing structure of routes.

So let’s celebrate something that you hear  very rarely from me:  Congratulations to American Airlines for a very wise decision.

Question: Why are airliners all looking alike now?

July 1, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Trivia | 1 Comment

I received a back channel question asking why all airliners are looking so alike now.

What the person was referring to was the fact that an A320 and B737 look, to the layman, almost exactly alike as do the medium and large widebody aircraft.  It’s true, the Airbus A330 is hard to distinguish from the Boeing 777/767 series aircraft too.

The only semi-distinguishable aircraft out there are the Airbus A340 (production has stopped), the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380.

But the question is why.

The answer is aerodynamics.  As manufacturers strive to gain more and more efficiency out of their aircraft, their aircraft start to look more and more alike.

Simply put, it’s about function over form.  When you design one of these aircraft, you don’t “style” it with something that goes against the aerodynamics of the airframe because such a thing could literally cost the user millions in fuel costs over the life of the airplane.

So, today, we have the Embraer E170/190 which looks a lot like how the Bombardier CS100/CS300 will look  which looks a lot like the Airbus A320 series which in turn looks a lot like the Boeing 737 series.  Because that shape works, we have the Airbus A300 which looks a lot like the Boeing 757/767 which looks a lot like the Airbus A330/A340 which looks a lot like the Boeing 777 which looks a lot like the upcoming A350 which also looks like the Boeing 787.

They all basically look alike with some slight differences and that is completely driven by aerodynamic efficiency.

It’s notable that the “odd ball” aircraft do not really survive past a single generation and don’t show up anymore.  The 727 was out of the ordinary with Boeing and its T-tail configuration was only ever used once by them.  The DC-10/MD-11 3-engine weirdness didn’t really last that long either.  The DC-10 did but the MD-11 died a quick death.  In fact, it’s notable that the MD-11 mostly died in popularity because it didn’t meet efficiency promises.

Oddballs don’t survive very long and those that do survive are driven in their function by physics.

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.

Emirates wants more

November 9, 2012 on 9:39 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Emirates wants more from Boeing and they want it in the form of a very long range, large capacity 777-X.  Boeing has been holding meetings with customers regularly to survey needs and find a solid definition for the next iteration of the 777 and reportedly all are very excited about what Boeing has except the Middle Eastern customers such as Emirates.

Emirates wants both the capacity and a bit more range.  Likely it’s interested in seeing enough range to fly from Dubai to Los Angeles with a full load.  Notably, this is what it really wanted to see out of the 747-8i as well.

No airliner ever failed from having too much range, that much is true.  Range can translate into 2 things for a customer:  the ability to serve long, thin routes and the ability to service slightly shorter routes with a full load.

Current ultra-long haul, high capacity airliners available are:

  • A380 with 500 passengers (plus or minus about 30) for 8300nm of range.
  • 747-8i with 400 passengers (plus or minus about 40) for 8000nm of range.
  • 777-300ER with 350 passengers (plus or minus about 40) for 7900nm of range.
  • A350-1000 with about 300 passengers (plus or minus about 30) for 8300nm of range

The Dubai-Los Angeles route is just a hair over 8300nm in distance and therefore really needs an aircraft with about 8800nm of range.  Boeing could give this to Emirates with the addition of a fuel tank or two, I suspect.

But both Boeing and now Airbus seem to be resisting going much past 8000nm because only a tiny handful of airlines need this range.  The rest are doing missions with these aircraft that are significantly less than 8000nm in distance.

There is also the issue of range costing more fuel than it might be worth at some point.  Each gallon of extra fuel costs more gallons of fuel to carry it.  There is a point of diminishing returns.

I think we’ll see the next generation of long haul, high capacity aircraft get performance improvements that may boost the range just long enough for the 8300nm mission but they won’t be here today or tomorrow.

Ultimately, I strongly believe that the ultra long routes will be better served by aircraft more in the style of the 787, 777-200LR and the A350-800/900.  I kind of expect Airbus to come up with a LR version of those A350 models for their treasured Eastern customers.

Will Boeing do it?  If Alan Mullaly were at the helm, I would say yes.  No airliner ever got harmed by additional range capability and just because it is there doesn’t mean the airlines have to use it all of the time.   Today, I think probably not.  Boeing’s board is increasingly cautious about spending money to build class winning aircraft.  They are mostly focused on derivatives and James McNerny, CEO of Boeing, seems content to have 90% solutions for Boeing customers.

Should they do it?  Yes, I would.  I would work very hard to get enough weight off the aircraft to allow a near 9000nm range in the large and smaller capacity versions of the 777-X.  Why?  Because airlines like Emirates will potentially buy a few hundred of them and no other airliner is going to complain about having more potential if it needs it.  In short, they’ll attract more customers and sales.  It isn’t Boeing’s job to figure out how an airline wants to operate.  It’s Boeing’s job to build and sell aircraft that customers want.

United Studies A350-1000 to replace jumbo jets

November 1, 2012 on 1:48 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

United Airlines is in discussions with Airbus about the A350-1000 as a replacement for aging 747 and 777 aircraft in the United fleet.  A significant portion of the United 777 fleet is comprised of very early build 777 aircraft (-200 series) and their 747s are particularly old as well.

United already has 787 aircraft on order (both on the Continental and United airlines sides of the house) as well as the A350-900.  While Continental executives are largely in charge of the airline today, I would suggest that Boeing pay attention.

It would be tempting to say that this is United rattling Boeing’s cage to get going on the 777-X.  I would agree that it has the secondary purpose of that but I also think United wants to know what it can get its hands on fairly quickly to replace a fleet of fuel inefficient aircraft that will begin to cripple profitability in a few years.

We’re not talking about replacing already old aircraft today, we are talking about replacing them in the 2018 to 2022 time period.  By then, these aircraft will be extremely fuel inefficient compared to other US fleets and time is of the essence.

When your capital costs for such an airliner are greater than $200 million for a single aircraft in that class, you want to buy the very most efficient aircraft you can get.  You want the best technologies because 20 years later, that is what you’ll be stuck with.

Whether Boeing thinks the current 777 lineup is still competitive on a spreadsheet, it is ignoring that it isn’t competitive in perception.  I’ll put it simply:

A350-1000:  New, efficient, modern, new

777-300ER:  Older, somewhat efficient, somewhat modern, not new.

Boeing needs the 777-X and it needs it today and airlines are signaling to Boeing that if Boeing doesn’t build it, they’ll buy it from someone else.

Curiously, Boeing already got this message handed to them over the A320NEO.  You would think that they had learned their lesson (again) and would be paying attention to airlines over the jumbo issue.  US Airlines can’t afford to be just loyal to Boeing anymore.  They must buy the best of the best and Airbus is the equal of Boeing in all categories.

If Boeing wants to sell some aircraft, it’s time to get authorization to offer and build a new range of 777 aircraft for its customers.  Customers who’ve plainly said “If you build it, we’ll buy it.  If you don’t, we’ll buy it from someone else.”

New American Airlines Livery

October 27, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Trivia | No Comments

When the new American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER was spotted at Boeing, everyone was a touch surprised to see it painted in grey with some preparation for a different scheme shown in how the tail was painted.  Current speculation is that AA will introduce a new livery with this aircraft although it might simply be a one-off design.

American Airlines is, of course, famous for its polished aluminum aircraft although that livery has been modified here and there over the years.  When the A300 came onboard, it was originally painted grey since Airbus aircraft nominally can’t be polished and left bare.  MD-80s ultimate saw their tail surfaces painted grey although originally they were polished as well.

Some think this 777 may just be a Oneworld paint scheme but it doesn’t follow what has been done with Oneworld aircraft so far.

I think it’s a new livery but if I’m a creditor of American Airlines, I would be pretty annoyed at discovering this.  Changing liveries is costly and with the future of AA much in doubt, it would be wiser to pause on a livery re-design until other issues are settled.

Yes, American does need a new livery because it is taking on new Airbus A320 series aircraft that must be painted and the 787 cannot be polished either.  More important, AA’s current livery is just . . . old and dated.

AA has lately been throwing out lots of change into the media.  Changes in seating, changes in first class experiences and just change.  Much of it scheduled years away.  Clearly it’s designed to create some excitement about the brand again but it seems slow and uncoordinated and against the best interests of a bankruptcy exit.   None of it fundamentally improves AA’s revenue plan so far either.

Enthusiasts will be excited and that includes me since a livery change is rare for most airlines and rarer still for American Airlines.

United and its 787 / Boeing

October 1, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek has recently made some comments about the airline and its fleet with particular attention to the 787.

Smisek notes that the range, efficiency and passenger capacity opens up new point to point routes for the airline such as Denver to Japan.  These are the kinds of routes we can expect from US airlines who take on the aircraft and the 787-9 will be used to upgrade service on those routes originally developed with the 787-8.

Smisek also reiterates that United doesn’t see the A380 as an airplane for them (and I agree) and does acknowledge that the 747-8i is being looked at (but likely not very seriously) and notes that it has a lot of airliners on order.  I strongly suspect that United would rather purchase the 777-X rather than buy either the 747-8i or A380.  In addition, I think he sees a lot of aging 777 aircraft that would be better replaced with a 787-10 or 777-X as well.

But Boeing has slipped its authorization to offer plan for the 777-X to late 2013 or early 2014.  Most think that Boeing doesn’t need to offer the 777-X now and that waiting to see the final definition of the A350-1000 will help them.

I think that you can’t lead in an industry from behind.  Waiting too long for to see what your customer does leaves you playing catch up and if that customer delivers on its promise, it doesn’t matter what you can do to better the situation, people will buy what’s available.

If you think I’m wrong . . . just look at what Airbus pulled off with its A320NEO against Boeing who is still lagging behind and who has a “me too” offering at best.

Airbus vs Boeing: Widebody Aircraft

May 17, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

We could spend tens of posts evangelizing for one manufacturer over another in the Airbus vs Boeing wars.  I spent some time wondering how it is each overcame the other at various times and decided to chart their respective aircraft on seating, range, speed and engine count.  It’s not hard to see why the 767 got trumped by the A330.  The A330 was the logical growth aircraft.  It had the right seating, range and speed.

Similarly, it’s not hard to see how the 787 is trumping the A330 and 767.  It hits the sweet spot in seating (not too large, not too small) while killing competitors on range and speed.  The same is true between the 777 and the A340 (and I’ve thrown in the MD-11 for comparison).  Again, the 777 trumps its competitors soundly in all three categories.

But most remarkable of all is seeing just how the 777 stacks up in present form against the A350.  Now I understand why Boeing continues to be the preferred aircraft so far.  The A350 competes and even competes reasonably well but it still doesn’t really trump the 777 and in some cases, it doesn’t get close to beating the 777.

See the results below:

Airliner Comparison

Emirates wants an updated 777 offered. . . NOW

May 14, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

Emirates CEO Tim Clark has decided to beat the drum of wanting a new, upgraded and revised 777 and he would like Boeing to announce it pronto.  Emirates has a very large fleet of 777 aircraft and likes to retire its aircraft from the fleet after about 12 years.  They also have the A350-1000 on order (20 orders) and have behaved very cool towards Airbus over that aircraft’s delays and its inability to be a real game changer against the 777.

Boeing probably has done a fair bit of definition for the 777-8X/9X aircraft and its likely they’ve held substantial conversations with customers to get a better feel for what should be offered.  I’m not entirely sure that what is offered is going to make Tim Clark happy as he generally wants more, More, MORE range in an aircraft.  Sadly, most airlines don’t need ultra-long range capability nearly as much as they want excellent fuel efficiency and very low seat mile costs.

The 777-8X is likely to be somewhat satisfying to Emirates but I suspect the -9X won’t be quite what they want.  Remember that Emirates wanted to see a 747-8i that had a few hundred more nautical miles range and Boeing wouldn’t give that to them.

It’s a tough position to be in at Boeing.  Emirates could act as a launch customer for a very successful upgrade of the 777.  On the other hand, Emirates will be the toughest critic possible of the aircraft all through development.

Boeing has quite a handful of things going on right now, too.  The 787 program is getting better and better but still requires quite a bit of care and feeding in order to develop the 787-9 and 787-10 over the next few years.  The 737-MAX program will keep a large portion of engineers busy for the next 5 to 6 years and that leaves very little engineering capability left over for the 777 development.

I think we’ll see some sort of firm definition get announced early next year and I think that an authorization to offer the aircraft will only come after Boeing sees customers signal their willingness (and even eagerness) to buy the aircraft from around the world and not just from the Middle East.  That is going to take a while.

777 and 787

February 27, 2012 on 10:53 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

The current and future product lineup for both the 777 and 787 is now becoming more clear for the next 15 years or more.  The 787 line is expected to be pumping out more and more 787-8 aircraft for current customers and the 787-9 is expected to fly in 2013 with deliveries taking place shortly thereafter.  Those two aircraft slot themselves just under the current 777-200ER/LR which is still an attractive aircraft to many airlines. 

The 787-10 is conceptual but, I think, a near certainty to arrive as a replacement for the current 777-200ER/LR.  Range will be the factor on this but Boeing should be able to provide with with similar range and capacity (passengers and cargo) as the 777-200ER with improved efficiency.  Suddenly, we have a 787 lineup with 3 aircraft capable of meeting the needs of airlines from the 767 range to the original 777 range and which also covers the current A330 lineup as well.  It also allows airlines to operate a mixed fleet to rightsize aircraft to routes using the same aircrew for each.

Additionally, the 777-X lineups move upwards with the 777-200 and 777-300 getting about 50 seats more capacity each with similar range as today.  These new variants will benefit from a larger, lighter composite wing and new generation GE90 engines that benefit from GENx technology.  The expectation is that such aircraft can also deliver from 15 to 20 percent improvement in efficiency as well. 

Now you have 5 aircraft derivatives from two models covering 98% of all widebody needs with class leading efficiency that brackets Airbus’ offerings in the A330/A350 models.  That’s a powerful sales tool when you consider that the current 777 pilot can transition to the 787 (and vice versa) in about 8 days of differences training.  I would expect that the new 777 variants may well be designed with flight decks that take that transition time down further or which may well make it possible for a pilot to be flexible across the entire 787/777-X line. 

This will be attractive to airlines around the world.   One airline can buy 5 variants that will seat a range of passengers from 242 seats (Boeing 3-Class Configuration) to 410 seats (Boeing 3 Class Configuration) with increments from the 787-8 forward being about 30 seats per aircraft, just where airlines like to see things.

I would expect that airlines would likely operate “skips” in their choices.  A 787-8 operator might also own the 787-10 and 777-9X, for instance.  A 787-9 operator might also own the 777-8X, as another example. 

Flexibility and range are the key weapons here and they become very, very attractive to airlines both in the United States as well as abroad.   These won’t be airliners designed to the demands of middle eastern airlines such as Emirates (who always want more range and capacity) but, rather, to the airlines that comprise the rest of the world. 

I think we’ll also see range in excess of 8000 to 8500nm as being not necessary either.  In other words, I don’t expect airlines to continue to try to build variants with more and more range.  Yes, it would be nice to offer an airliner that can fly from London to Sydney and earn money and that may even be possible with the next generation 777 aircraft.  However, it’s virtually the only market left that cannot be served by airliner and that makes it a pretty small one for aicraft.  As such, I would expect that their might be a high performance 777-8X offered to those airlines capable of doing the mission profitably but that will come later rather than sooner unless it is deamed necessary to selling aircraft to the airline.

777-8X/9X: Here we go

January 16, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Aspire Aviation has revealed that Boeing has issued an RFP to GE and Rolls-Royce (with speculation that Pratt & Whitney got included) for a next generation engine for the 777-8X/9X development.  The target appears to be about 100,000lbs of thrust (and I’m sure Boeing would like to hear about a growth path to that as well.)

With the combination of new technologies for the fuselage, composite wings that are likely a bit larger and a lower fuel consumption, these new aircraft would definitely be A350 beaters in every category.  The current 777 lineup performs well against the performance definitions for the A350-900 and based on comments from A350-1000 customers, the 777-300ER probably isn’t equaled on long haul routes. 

A revised 777 that upgrades the -200LR with more seats and as much range, capacity and cargo capacity would clearly be of interest to many airlines.  A -300ER that also increases its capacity with equal or better range would also be of great interest to many.  Boeing has rightly identified that its the -300ER that is likely the sweet spot in size (or a little larger) for most airlines requiring a high capacity/long range airliners for routes.

The A380 will be around for a long time.  It won’t be a big seller over the next decade and will only ever be a success if there is enough growth on long haul trunk routes to require that aircraft.  The 747-8i remains an interim solution from Boeing and it still hasn’t garnered much interest from airines.  In fact, many airlines have downsized from the 747-400 in favor of the 777-300ER.

Trunk routes will remain but there will be fewer of real importance and requiring a VLA.  The 787, A350 and 777 all permit airlines to fly more point to point routes and earn profits.  Ultra long haul flights are likely to remain more in the style of “long and thin” than “long and fat”.  After all, just how many people are likely to fly from Houston to Auckland, New Zealand even with network feed?  Answer:  Not enough to require a 777 or 747 for quite some time.

I do think Boeing has the right idea in offering a revised 777 instead of an all new design in this category.  The 777 still incorporates some fairly cutting edge technology and with a revised composite wing alone could probably continue as a category winner.

Welcome to the New Year – Part 3

January 4, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

2011 wasn’t the worst year for airlines and 2012 won’t be either.  Instead, I think we’ll see more of the same in most respects.

Airlines will continue to constrain their capacity and that will show more discipine than I thought they had 3 years ago.  They’ve proven me wrong and I think the results are too good for them to not to continue over the next 12 months.

Fuel costs will continue to be a difficult thing for airlines to manage.  There will continue to be volatility but I don’t think we’ll see anything like 2008/2009.  The financial crisis in Europe will reduce some demand on oil but I see no real economic growth in any part of the world that will drive demand either.  The truth is that the emerging economies are largely dependent upon demand from both Europe and North America and neither of those economies will see high growth in 2012.

Airlines will continue to make large orders for more fuel efficient narrow body aircraft.  This only makes sense as the gains are more than enough to justify the purchases and now is the time to gain an advantage in bargaining with both Boeing and Airbus.  Furthermore, airlines need to hedge against their labor costs which will only grow over time.

Aircraft manufacturers have a much more sure path for the next 10 years now.  Boeing will be biding its time on improvements to the 777 until it sees more definition of the A350-1000 and it will throw its resources into ramping up 787 production, 787-9 development and 737MAX development.  It’s possible that we’ll see a real 787-10 announcement in 2012 but, if so, probably not until the latter part of the year.

Airbus has to get its act together on the A350 and try very, very hard to prevent too much schedule slip.  Despite its efforts, I think we’ll see more schedule slip and it won’t reveal the entire picture as that unfolds.  While I don’t expect quite the same delay as the 787 saw, it will be a significant delay and it will impact Airbus.  They’ll also try to flog the A380 as much as possible and may even succeed with small orders in parts of the world it hasn’t penetrated much to date.  I do not see any US based orders for the A380.  Furthermore, Airbus made some big promises for the A320NEO and it’s got to work hard to deliver on those.  They’ve made it out like the A320NEO is a no-brainer for development and while it is an incremental improvement, the engineering to deliver is non-trivial.

Bombardier will work its tail off to sell more of the CSeries and I think it may even succeed.  The sweet spot its lineup offers will become more attractive to airlines once they see Bombardier actually perform in the development and test of this aircraft.  The CS100 isn’t the attractive aircraft but its the one that will fly and deliver first.  Once the performance of that aircraft is established, I think we’ll see orders from US and European airlines come in large numbers.

Embraer has got a nice grip on the regional airliner business but it also has a problem in that, right now, there is no growth path into a larger plane for purchasers.  It has plans to work on re-engining the E-Series but I think they’ll concede the need to develop a larger airliner as well.  The Bombardier CSeries presents just a touch too much threat in the future. 

I don’t think we’ll see much from the other regional airliners being developed.  The Mitsubishi MRJ doesn’t feel quite right for airlines to me and doesn’t offer a growth path into a larger airliner.  The orders its racked up so far are fairly paltry and at risk, in my opinion.

The Sukhoi SuperJet, on the other hand, has a real chance, I think.  It’s Westernized, it’s flying and it does feel like its the right size.  The real challenge in this aircraft is ensuring support and with Boeing as a consultant, it may well have some help in that arena.  If it does succeed, that success will begin in Europe as well as for airlines of lesser developed areas such as the Middle East, India and the Far East.   If any orders come from the US, it will be years in the making.

If anything stirs in the US airline industry, I think it will be in the LCC arena and I think it will be small(ish) if anything.  I do not think we’ll see any legacy consolidation despite wishful thinkers for a US Airways / AA merger.  Something like that becomes much more likely in 2013.

I think American Airlines will plod through its bankruptcy in 2012 with a bit of scandal here and there.  I think its labor force is about to take a beating on wages and benefits and I think the resulting bitterness will last for years.   I also think that United and Delta will be growing a bit more concerned about AA late in 2012 once they have a picture of what AA’s cost structures are likely to be.

2011 was largely a “rebuilding” year for the airline industry.  2012 will be largely so as well.  Until the world economies recover, the best the industry can hope to do is manage its problems and earn a bit of money.  That’s eminently possible for them to do.

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