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.

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.

Hell No! IAM votes against Boeing

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

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

The vote was very decisive in rejecting the contract.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m looking at you, Tom Wroblewski.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey! Where would you build the 777-X?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This contract is crap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boeing loses startups

October 24, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

It often bothers me that Boeing never seems willing to buy into a start up airline.  Airbus has had to make it its business to go to these startups in hopes that they’ll gain market share incrementally.

But Boeing always seems to want to see a strong balance sheet and a track record before truly making a good deal to an airline.  On the surface, this seems smart but in reality, I think Boeing is slowly ceding sales to more and more airlines as a result.

A leveraged business, particularly in the airline industry, is a very common thing these days.

Most recently, VivaAerobus has been operating a fleet of 737-300 aircraft (20) and it just inked a deal with Airbus to buy A320 aircraft to replace those 737s and to expand with.

How do you let an airline operating your airliner successfully get away like that?

You treat them the way Boeing does.  They’re not big, they’re not the best financed and they’re the upstart in a highly regulated country.  But Airbus has the sale and Boeing doesn’t despite the fact that Boeing should have actually had the performance advantage on this sale.

It’s my belief that Boeing has trended towards being discriminating with its sales to only larger companies in general.  And I believe this will hurt Boeing more and more in the commercial landscape in the years to come.

Another moment on the JAL Airbus order

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

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

Particularly when it comes from Aboulafia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is . . . has Boeing noticed that?


Airbus wins JAL order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I’ll wait.

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.

New Aircraft May Spell New Competition

June 25, 2013 on 12:27 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Around the world, airlines are making record setting orders for new narrowbody aircraft.  We airlines in Southeast Asia and Europe being particularly aggressive while here in the United States airlines are far less so (even American Airlines who desperately needed a new fleet.)

In the United States, most of these orders are being made to replace modest portions of fleets that are nearing the outer limits of age.  100 737s for Delta Airlines just means that old aircraft get replaced with new aircraft.  No real change in fleet size.

Now, many US airlines are modestly upgauging their fleets with slightly larger aircraft.  An A319 buyer is going to the A320.  A 737-700 user goes with a 737-800.  This capacity growth amounts to just meeting organic growth in a modest economy such as the United States.

However, in Europe and Southeast Asia, I suspect something else is going 0n.  Some airlines will use some portion of their order to replace their oldest aircraft (Ryanair and easyJet) but I think the vast portion of their orders are going to go towards growth.

In Europe, I think we will see another fare bloodbath before things settle.  This won’t be just between Ryanair and Easyjet either.  Expect all the other low cost European carriers to be involved.  Norwegian, Germanwings, Air Berlin and Monarch all come to mind as airlines that are likely to be affected by a battle.

In Southeast Asia, the competition is already massive with prices already about as low as they should go with airlines planning double digit growth for multiple years.  Someone and something has to give here.  Yes, low cost carriers in this region are revolutionizing travel but they’re also often operating at a loss for marketshare.  Does this sound familiar?

I expect we will see one or more airlines in this region go bankrupt and I have in mind one particular entity:  Lion Air.

Economic growth in Southeast Asia doesn’t occur at all societal levels and that kind of airline growth isn’t sustainable in that region.  Someone will go out of business or will go bankrupt.  Bet on it.


The Paris Air Show Order Games

June 18, 2013 on 12:58 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

The order games have begun at the Paris Air Show and there is one takeaway you should absolutely get from it:

It means absolutely nothing.  For at least this year.

Both Boeing and Airbus will land orders, cry out in joy that they won this customer or that but the status quo will largely be maintained.

Airbus will engage in its silly and, in fact, already has by announcing an order for 20 A380 aircraft by Doric Leasing.  Until proven otherwise, this feels like a silly order by a company who isn’t a “name” in aircraft leasing and who perhaps doesn’t understand just how limited the use of the A380 is for most airlines.  Without a few airlines named as taking up these aircraft, I’m not sure I believe the order.

Boeing has announced its easiest order ever for this year:  GECAS is ordering 10 787-10 aircraft.

Also notable is EasyJet who has ordered 135 A320 aircraft (35 CEO aircraft and 100 NEO aircraft) and it’s notable because I think Boeing might have been able to win this on price.  Yet it appears Boeing wasn’t even trying to contend.

And Boeing has officially launched its 787-10 with United Airlines being the US launch partner with an order for 20 of the aircraft.  Other “launch partners” are British Airways (an order for 10) and Singapore Airlines (an order for 10).

This won’t be a year of shock and awe and I suspect many will be glad for it as the industry has had enough shock and awe over the past few years to last quite a while.

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.

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.

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.

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