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.

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.


Batteries and the 787

January 14, 2014 on 1:52 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

There is a news report that the 787 has experienced another battery incident in Japan.

And when we digest the sensational reporting, we find that . . . not so much.

A single battery cell “vented” as designed when a 787 was undergoing scheduled maintenance.  The 787 was owned by JAL and US authorities have not decided to investigate.

Which brings me to another, related issue:  The 787 battery fix.

This is a fix that by all appearances has done exactly what it was designed to do which is to inhibit the problem from occurring but also protect the airliner if it does occur.  That single cell venting mentioned up above?  That’s a design working as it is supposed to.  A cell may destruct but now it can’t induce a runaway event in the battery itself.

I think quite a few people owe Boeing an apology for their rather strong criticisms of the battery fix design and what it would mean.  One of those people would be Elon Musk who famous tried to tell the chief engineer at Boeing how to fix the problem.  It’s notable that the Tesla S car is now the focus of . . . wait for it . . . batteries catching fire after accidents.

New technologies bring about new problems.  Sometimes those problems aren’t fully uncovered until something goes into service and that doesn’t mean aircraft (or cars) shouldn’t go into service.  We also shouldn’t be quite so quick to condemn an aircraft for a problem related to that new technology.  When the battery grounding was going on, there were several Talking Head experts opining that this aircraft is a failure and should possibly be permanently grounded.

Norwegian Air Shuttle Grounds / Returns 787 For Problems

October 3, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News | 2 Comments

Norwegian Air Shuttle has had a giant fit of impatience with Boeing over its inability to pound their 787 aircraft on a daily basis.  Accordingly, Norwegian has returned at least one 787 to Boeing claiming its unreliable.

Norwegian’s CEO is notoriously outspoken and the airline likes to drive its aircraft like any good LCC carrier would.  Hard.

Can the 787 be operated the same way a 737 is?  I actually think not.  And certainly it would be unwise for an airline to do it so early in its operation of the aircraft.  It takes time to learn a fleet and understand what needs to be done to keep the airplane flying.

What needs to be done to keep a 737 flying is well known.  What needs to be done to keep a 787 flying is still somewhat unknown.  The 787 will be able to keep a hard schedule in the future but today . . . not so much.

As much as I think Norwegian is being overly critical and dramatic over this aircraft, I also think that Boeing continues to have an engineering problem with the aircraft.  That is that they continue to fight fires and continue to miss quality control as a part of the process.  That was understandable at one time but it’s 2013.  This aircraft has been flying for some time and, more importantly, has already experienced several critical problems.

It’s time for Boeing to get a CEO in place who understands what it means to deliver a product to customers that customers both want and can use.  Right now, the 787 is what the customers want but they can’t use it yet.

Norwegian Grounds 787 . . . NOT

September 9, 2013 on 12:14 pm | In Airline News | 1 Comment

There is a reason why I’m writing this today.  It’s because a newspaper has printed story about Norwegian Air Shuttle grounding their 787 aircraft.

Except they didn’t.  The detail of the story simply outlines that twice Norwegian has technical problems with their brand new 787s causing them to cancel a flight.

This happens like . . . with absolute certainty with new airliners entering an airline fleet.

The aircraft weren’t “grounded”.  Not even briefly.  They went technical forcing a flight cancellation.  That’s it.

Now, it is common for media to over-blow airline events and I almost always ignore such stories these days because their just silly.  You could devote a whole blog to debunking such things and that’s not how I want to spend my time.

But in this case, I will.  Why?

Because that story was in the New York Times website titled “Airline in Norway Says It Briefly Grounded Dreamliners”.  This story was written by someone named Nicola Clark.  On the New York Times website, it says this about Nicola:

Nicola Clark has reported on French business for the International Herald Tribune since 2001, covering a number of industries, including aviation, banking and media. She received an Aerospace Journalist of the Year award in 2007 from the World Leadership Forum for her writing about the Airbus A380 crisis. After earning a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University in New York in 1993, she worked for news agencies in New York, Tokyo, London and Paris covering financial markets.

So, here is my deal:  This story was stupid.  It covers an airline having a couple of technical problems with an aircraft which is not news.  This is never news.  This isn’t the news that should be reported.  It sure isn’t the news that should be reported by someone who has evidently been recognized as “Aerospace Journalist of the Year” from something called the World Leadership Forum.

I realize that the title of that story could have easily been done by an editor who is also stupid.  But writing a story about an aircraft having a couple of problems just as every other aircraft experiences from time to time forcing a couple of cancellations is atrocious journalism.


Announcing London to Austin Non-Stop. . . Say what?

September 4, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News, Airline Service | 2 Comments

British Airways has announced its intentions to start a London (Heathrow) to Austin, TX flight initially flying 5x a week (all but SAT and WED) going to daily later in 2014.  This new flight will start early next year and I’m pretty sure it marks the very first trans-Atlantic flight for Austin.

No, this won’t be using a 777 or a 747.  It will be done with a 787-8 and it is a perfect example of what the 787 allows an airline to do. If British Airways can make this route successful at all, it will yield more revenue than asking American Airlines to bring the passenger to Dallas or United Airlines to bring the passenger to Houston.

But there are implications for the vaunted alliances and, in this case, Oneworld.

Why is it in an airline’s best interest to remain in an alliance and even a trans-Atlantic joint venture if it can simply deploy the right sized aircraft to the route and pick off all the low hanging fruit.

There are also implications for airlines who have not adopted the 787 in any great numbers.  Some airlines continue to view the 787 as a 767 when, in fact, it isn’t.  If all you ever needed was a 767, you would probably be better off buying a 767 from Boeing new (they still offer them).  The 787 can do 767 missions but the genius of owning one is that it can also provide exceptional flexibility and provide more opportunities for profit than the 767 ever had a hope of providing.

Flexibility, we’re learning, is a key component to earning profits at airlines.

I believe that Delta Airlines has shown great restraint and excellent analysis in how it has so far managed its fleet in almost every respect.  The one area I did not believe to be smart was their deferral of 787 aircraft. Tying their fortunes to continued use of their 767s will impact their ability to be flexible and entreprenurial on a global scale.

Likewise, I believe that we’ll see United Airlines start to truly exploit the possibilities of their 787 aircraft in the near future and that will provide competitive intensity to Delta Airlines that we have not yet seen so far.

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.

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.

What’s next for Boeing and the 787

April 5, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Boeing is reporting that they are about half finished with tests necessary to restore the 787 to flight and they have crews deployed to customers, especially Japan, to install the fixes at the word “go”.

Unlike many, I find the solution they are engaged with to be fairly satisfying since it is based upon fairly simple science.  Simple science trumps Rube Goldberg ideas every time.  I also find the idea that this is beging regarded as a greater fire hazard than virtually anything else a bit exhausting.

Many are treating a lithium ion battery was more dangerous than, say, an unknown fault in an electrical pump inside a fuel tank.  These problems are going to happen and they can be confounding to figure out and identify a root cause.  Often times, it takes several events to identify a root cause and while that seems unsatisfying, it really isn’t.

It’s the way the real world works.  Sometimes it takes a while to fully figure out a problem.  When you don’t know the root cause, then the next best solution is one where simple science provides some control.

That said, I think that Boeing is still pushing too hard to control this story and insist on it gaining back all the credibility it needs for the 787.  At what point does Boeing admit that it has a credibility problem given that it seems content to allow PR staff and attorneys control the story.

Companies don’t reassure the public or their clients until they own up to their part in problems.  That hasn’t been done yet.

If Boeing thinks their problems go away with a successful return to service for this airliner . . . they don’t.  Boeing has a credibility problem at this point that has gone unaddressed with customers far too long.  If you’re an airline, you want to know that the company you’re buying aircraft from is still the company you once knew.  At this point, how do these airlines know this?

Airlines should be doing a bit more to hold Boeing accountable at this point.  I would expect these airlines to hold meetings with Boeing Commercial Aircraft president, Ray Conner, and explain to him that Boeing’s word is no longer very golden on all things and that its time to get real with facts instead of spin.

As an airline, you have to be able to count on your airliner supplier at all times.  I’m not sure that airlines can do that at this present time with Boeing.

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.

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.

Should the 787 be allowed to fly?

February 27, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

Boeing has made a proposal to the FAA that would provide an interim fix to its 787 battery and wants the FAA to approve the idea and allow recertification testing of the solution to start.  The NTSB is not due to issue its own report until late March but it is reported that Boeing wants to get the aircraft flying again by April.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal for the simple reason that an interim fix is comprised mainly of “toughening up” the battery with additional steps taken to prevent and/or contain thermal runaway.  No one has said why these batteries are being challenged more than they should be.

On the other hand, it’s notable that the 787 aircraft built today comprise 50 aircraft plus a rather substantial test fleet that managed to fly many cycles and many different profiles before two successive battery events.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem but it does cast doubt, in my opinion, on the problem being the actual battery.

Even if it isn’t the battery itself that is the problem, extra containment strikes me as wise.

It seems that if Boeing wants to come out of this latest problem with any credibility, it really should be prepared to indicate exactly what the problem is and what not only the interim fix is but what the final fix will be.  When you have both pieces of information, that’s when you ask for an interim fix.  Right now, it is unclear if anyone understands the exact root cause of the problems.

I’ve had it suggested to me that Boeing must understand the root cause given their application for an interim fix.  If it were 10 years ago, I would agree with you.  Today, I think Boeing and, in particular, it’s executive leadership, have not held to Boeing principles on finding solutions to problems.  In light of that and as much as it pains me, I think it wiser to wait until the root cause is understood before approving a fix to the lithium batteries.

A better alternative interim fix, in my opinion, would be installation of a safer battery technology.  I’m sure Boeing doesn’t want to engage in this because it would require other changes to other systems.  If Boeing hasn’t made this their Plan B yet, it really shakes my confidence in their ability to solve problems.

Who has it? Boeing or Airbus

February 20, 2013 on 10:20 am | In Aircraft Development | 2 Comments

Aviation and airline consultant, Richard Aboulafia, has written about re-thinking his position about Boeing after many years of seeing Boeing as a stronger company.  This is no small thing, in my opinion.

Aboulafia makes several good points about how each company has evolved over the past decade or more.  Airbus has built a stronger and stronger company both on profits but also on making the right business case.  While I think Airbus has gaps in its products, I also think that Airbus has also been the leader in arguments for and against aircraft for the past 15 years.

Boeing has been been reacting to Airbus on many different levels since the mid-1990’s.  The last leadership Boeing has displayed on aircraft is the 777 and, let’s face it, that aircraft had the benefit of being last to market in the contest between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Airbus.

Boeing created the 737 Next Generation aircraft line in response to the Airbus A320 series line and while Boeing made a business case for its 737NG, it was based essentially on being a legacy aircraft that was cheaper to operate.  It wasn’t based on being the better aircraft.  There is a reason why Airbus has made so many inroads in the United States over the past 15 years and it isn’t because they have an inferior, more costly product for operation.

Not only did Airbus suck demand away from the Boeing 767 line, it managed to eat away at 777-200 sales as well and did it all with the A330-200/300 series aircraft.   The A330 not only was a better response to the 767, it also was more “right sized” for almost all of the routes being served by 777-200 aircraft.  It offers excellent fuel economy, excellent operating economics and continues to not feel old or dated.  That’s no small achievement in a business where you get to create a new product for a demand maybe every 20 years or so.

While I think the A380 is an ego project with a future that is far more limited than what Airbus / Emirates believes, they’ve got the aircraft flying and doing so very reliably.  They also killed most of the remaining demand for the Boeing 747.  The 747-8i is not going to be more than an ultra-niche aircraft.  It might be a little more in demand than the 747-SP and it might attract cargo companies for a few more years but it very, very clear that the A380 killed the 747 pretty effectively.  If nothing else, Boeing no longer has the massive profit generator that the 747 once was and that’s significant.

What has Boeing done in the last 15 years or so?  It got the 717 and killed it in the hopes that it could sell more of the 737-600.  That didn’t work out so good and it’s notable that the 717 continued to be a very effective money-maker for those who have owned it.

It’s provided winglets and PIPs (performance improvement package) to the 737 series which have kept it in the game against the A320 but only just so.  And when Airbus defined the airlines needs with the A320NEO, Boeing stumbled around for a year and gave us the 737MAX when it could have forced Airbus to abandon the NEO by announcing an all new 737 replacement.

The 767 is sold in tiny quantities still but mostly it was kept around to win the KC-46 tanker program.  Boeing is selling the United States a bargain tanker replacement but one that is based on an airframe that is about 30 years old.  Think about that.  Now think about how long the Air Force kept the KC-135 tankers so far.

The 787 . . . well, this aircraft has plagued Boeing with some pretty bad PR to date.  It’s yielded some good PR, too, but it’s really exposed Boeing for what it has become:  A committee managing an aircraft business on the basis of extracting the last bit of value possible from tired products.   The committee decided it could let everyone else do its job and design its next airplane and that hasn’t worked out so well.

The 747-8i?  Niche aircraft, old design, not attractive to most airlines and compared to the 777-300ER, just not up to the job as much as airlines seem to want.

The 777-200/300 is 20 years old and the Boeing Committee’s plan is to push away doing anything with it for another 7 years.  This despite the fact that airlines have directly and positively responded to a refreshed, stretched design.  Airlines are entirely willing to have a re-winged, stretched airframe with enhanced engines.  Not only willing but nearly clamoring for it.  Boeing’s response?  Yeah, yeah.  When we get to it.

The 787-9 is being built now but too slowly.  The 787-10 hasn’t really been aggressively pursued despite the clear encroachment of the A350 series into this territory.

My point is that Boeing is slowly and methodically ceding strengths to Airbus.  While Airbus may not be the best governed, best run aircraft manufacturer, it is at least making every effort to to execute with excellence.  That excellence is embodied by good engineering, good value and modern technology.

So, yeah, I agree.  Boeing just isn’t the company that it was and should be.  It lacks visionary leadership.  It lacks engineering leadership and it lacks self-honesty at this point.  It can continue as a company for many years to come but it isn’t going to be the Boeing we remember.  It isn’t going to be the Boeing we keep willing it to be.  It’s going to be that company that makes things but which slowly lets its lifeblood ooze out to others.  Or at least that’s where I think it will go if it doesn’t acknowledge the need for improved leadership and more risk taking.

Some would say that Boeing took too much risk with the 787.  I would respond that they farmed out all their big risk to others and looked to cash in with everyone else sharing that burden.  They now have realized a great deal of risk, yes but how much of that could have been avoided altogether if Boeing had just built the damn thing as it had with previous airframes?   And how hard would it be to answer tough questions about a battery and charging system if you had designed the thing yourself?

And how many more times is James McNerney (chairman and CEO of Boeing) going to declare publicly that his company is a great company and his 787 is a great airplane without acknowledging the very real problems that sit on his doorstep?

Dreamliner Woes

February 11, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

There has been some development in the investigation(s) going on to determine the nature of the battery problem on the 787.  Primarily, it is now known that the battery in the Boston 787 incident as the source of the fire in that there is a battery cell that has been identified as the source.

The battery manufacturer has been investigated closely and no quality assurance problems have been identified in their facilities.

Boeing has asked for and received permission for test flights and has done at least one successfully.  No surprise there.

Let’s not forget that this airliner has been flying around in tests and for airlines for over 3 years now.   While there is no doubt that a problem could have persisted through testing and introduction into service, if it were an easy problem to reproduce, it would have been a problem that came to light sooner than this.

The alarming part of the problem isn’t the whether the battery is of good design or even if the charging and control systems are the source of the problem.  It’s that when those batteries go, they really go.

I expect that Boeing has made changes to controls and/or how the battery is mounted and maintained and is performing test flights with instrumentation to get the FAA to approve an interim fix.  Then there will be an expectation that the battery will either be redesigned or replaced with safer technology.  Both could take as much as a year to do.

Would the FAA approve an interim fix?  I absolutely think so.  Sadly, that decision may be driven more by economics than science which means that we’ll have some doubt about the interim fix as its deployed.

I am beginning to think that Boeing is shoving its head deeper and deeper into a hole over this problem and mostly because Boeing CEO Jim McNerney seems bent on just issuing assurance after assurance in the belief that Boeing credibility is the paramount thing to rely upon here.

Despite Boeing’s assurances that they take this seriously and are heavily engaged in a fix, I can’t escape the feeling that they’re trying hard to explain this away as opposed to performing a full mea culpa and dig in with an honest root cause analysis that serves everyone’s concerns at this point.

In fact, I believe doing the latter will cost far less over the long run than the antics going on presently.

Miscellaneous Items

February 1, 2013 on 9:24 am | In Airline News | No Comments

AA 777 Livery

Terry Maxon at the Airline Biz Blog of the Dallas Morning News has photos of the new 777-300ER in the new livery colors introduced by American a couple of weeks ago.  It isn’t quite as jarring as that of the 737-800 we’ve already seen.  That said, I still think it’s a very ugly tail and in conflict with the logo now in use.  I still like the silver and I still think the stylized eagle implies a star more than an eagle.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines had a captain faint while in the cockpit on a flight over Oregon.  The first officer declared an emergency and landed the aircraft on a priority basis in Portland.  Another captain ferried to Portland and flew the flight the rest of the way.  The captain who fainted was an industry veteran with a current medical certificate.  He gained consciousness in the cockpit and removed himself from the cockpit to the back of the plane where he was tended to by an onboard doctor.  The only real problem here is if Michael O’Leary of Ryanair gets wind of a 737-800 being landed by a single pilot.

All Nippon Airlines

All Nippon Airlines (ANA) says that its losses due to the 787 grounding are now up to just over $15million.  Once the final effect of the grounding is known, ANA (and other airlines) will likely enter into discussions with Boeing over compensation for their losses.  No doubt Boeing will see this an opportunity to book more orders for aircraft.




More comments on the 787 problems.

January 18, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline News | No Comments

With the temporary grounding of the 787 and the program review kicking off on the design and certification of this airliner, there is more and more fear of it.  I agree that the battery failure looks horrific.  Some (Christine Negroni is sounding particularly shrill to me.) are derailing into what, to me, seems like hysteria, over the battery failure in Boston.

The battery issue in Japan was not a fire.  It was found to be “swollen” and that it had leaked electrolyte.  An important issue but not a fire.

Facts are important in this situation and there is one hell of a lot of speculation going on.  So let me join in:

I find it very curious that these problems have cropped up suddenly and, so far, on one airline’s aircraft.  I keep wondering if there is something being done incorrectly in the operation of the airliner to cause this problem.  I would have expected more failures to occur at this point than what has occurred it was a fundamental flaw in the design.

It’s possible the quality assurance for the battery manufacturing is not very good.  It’s possible that the battery design itself is flawed.  It’s possible that the pilots are operating the aircraft in a manner that is overheating these batteries because of an unanticipated design issue. It could be a battery protection circuit issue or a design flaw in that circuit.

We’ll get the answers.  The problem will be solved in one way or another.

I even think the comparisons to the DC-10 and AA Flight 191 are a bit amusing in one respect:  Flight 191 happened because someone was performing an unapproved procedure to maintain an engine.  In other words, the aircraft was being handled incorrectly during maintenance.

But to run around shrieking “Danger! Danger!” is really kind of foolish.  Wait for facts, then make judgements.

The Dreamliner

January 12, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News | 3 Comments

There have been a series of events with respect to the Boeing 787 over the past several days culminating in the FAA announcing that it would do a priority review of the 787’s design and manufacture.  This has people asking if the 787 is dangerous and I wanted to address what I think is already incorrect information being disseminated out there.

First and foremost:  I would fly the 787 tomorrow.  With regards to safety, I believe this airliner is as safe as any other relatively new airliner.

Fuel leaks have been found as a result of incorrect manufacturing installations.  That isn’t a design problem, it’s a manufacturing problem.  And manufacturing problems arise in new airliners.

Engine problems in the GEnX engines used for the 787 have been found in a few of the airliners.  These appear to be truthfully isolated in nature and appear to be getting addressed by GE.  That said, I’ll also concede that there hasn’t been as much visibility on this engine as one would ordinarily like to see if you watch this industry.  In fact, these engine problems have typically been described as a problem on the Boeing 787.  They’re not.  They are a problem for the GE GEnX engine.

The battery fire in Boston is alarming and needs quick and sure investigation.  So little is known here that it, alone, shouldn’t prompt a design review.  It should, however, prompt a quick and sure investigation and it has.

I’ve seen reports of windshield cracking from Japan being cited as a problem cropping up with this newly designed aircraft.  That would be incorrect.  Windshield cracking happens frequently and particularly so in the wintertime.  Temperatures get unbelievably cold on the outside of the aircraft while temps in the cockpits are a comfortable 70 degrees.  There can be as much as a 120 degree temperature differential between the outside of an aircraft and the inside.  Windows, even the best ones, periodically crack because of these temperature stresses.  That’s why cockpit windows are heated:  It prevents cracking.

There have been the odd mechanical issues showing up on the 787.  This is extremely normal and nothing approaching the boundary of “normal” for a newly introduced airliner.  It takes operational time to weed these things out, put fixes in and raise the reliability to the measure its expected to meet.

The best contrast I could offer today is this:  I believe the 787 is a safer airliner than the old MD-80s being flown by many airlines today.  It has the best of the best in technologies and an aircraft company behind it with a safety record that is second to none.   If I just took the number of engine shutdowns, rejected takeoffs, engine mechanical issues causing returns to airports for American Airlines MD-80 fleet, I could create a media scare that would dwarf the 787 perceived issues.

The Airbus A380 went through some very similar times in its first few years as well.  We in the United States didn’t notice them much at all because the A380 wasn’t being flown in the US (and still isn’t) and the safety issues weren’t cropping up in our newspapers and on our TV news shows.

So take these reports with a large grain of salt.

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.

Who is getting the 787?

September 30, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

The 787 has been delivered to several different customers now and it is worth looking at who has received their aircraft thus far:

  • Air India (2)
  • All Nippon Airways (14)
  • Ethiopian Airlines (1)
  • Japan Airlines (6)
  • LAN (1)
  • United Airlines (1)

And many are set to be delivered in the near future.  Airlines such as LOT, China Southern, QATAR and Hainan Airlines should all be receiving their first 787 aircraft as well.

Notice anything yet?  With the exception of United Airlines, all of these airlines are far away from the North American continent.  It exposes just how much US based airlines have *not* been thinking far ahead for the past decade.

And it shows just how far they have to go to catch up with the efficiencies that other airlines will be enjoying in the near future.  One has to ask oneself how it is that Air India has two 787s already and Delta, American Airlines and US Airways have . . . none.  With none on the horizon.

Yes, United Airlines will be receiving more and more as time goes by but they are the only ones for the near future.

Airlines have to be managed tactically (short term) at any one moment.  But they must be planned strategically and failing that, you’ll see their fortunes decline considerably at some point.

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