More A380 delays or not

In a confusing set of stories, reports suggest that there may be a new round of delivery delays for the Airbus A380. These generated from comments made by Airbus CEO Thomas Enders, who said Airbus is engaged in a major review of the A380 production to assess the delivery schedule of 13 A380s this year and more in succeeding years.

This apparently was interpreted to mean that Airbus might not deliver the 13 airplanes promised this year. A spokesman immediately denied that’s what was meant.

We’re told by two sources–one inside Airbus and one a former Airbus executive–that program reviews are normal and there’s much ado about nothing on this one. The former Airbus executive told us he was puzzled why Enders even made the remarks.

Given the A380′s delay history, any hint of delays–whether founded or unfounded–are bound to cause concern and questions such as expressed in the news reports. This is similar to the trials now experienced by Boeing with the 787 program and fears by 777F and 747-8 customers of knock-on effects to these programs.

The 777F program appears to be on track now that there is no conflict in flight testing schedules between the 787 and 777F, as emerged on a previous 787 revised schedule. Some customers remain concerned–and are predicting–delays of several months in the 747 program, however, because of the level of engineering resources previously diverted to the 787. These customers believe Boeing won’t have time to catch up on the 747 to keep this program on track. Boeing previously pushed back roll-out by three months, according to reports, but has vowed to keep to the delivery schedule even if it means initially delivering a plane that’s about 1% overweight, according to Flight International.

New, 2:00 PM PDT: Speaking of A380 delays, Reuters has this report about Airbus penalty payments to Emirates Airlines for the delays. An excerpt: DUBAI (Reuters) – European plane maker Airbus paid Dubai’s Emirates EMAIR.UL as much as $110 million during the last year in compensation for the late delivery of the A380, of which the Arab carrier is the largest customer, Emirates said.

To fuel or not to fuel

Here are a couple of items about the refueling capability of the KC-30/KC-330 tanker, which is one point of controversy in the continuing saga of the Boeing-Northrop Grumman tanker contract award.

Boeing likes to point out that Northrop’s KC-30 hasn’t passed gas through its bloated airplane (sorry, we couldn’t resist the puns) and that there are delays in the EADS/Airbus KC-330 program to Australian. The KC-330 is the basis for the KC-30.

Aviation Week has this story about the KC-330 and some issues with the refueling boom. Northrop Grumman provided a link to this video showing fuel transfer on an Airbus A310 test-bed aircraft.

Northrop likes to point out that Boeing’s sixth generation boom proposed for the air force hasn’t been built, nor has the airplane to which this boom will be installed.

New, 0920 PDT: A Reuters report published in London’s The Guardian raises precisely the issue we raised weeks ago: that efforts by the US Congress to overturn the tanker award based on jingoism can potentially do more harm do Boeing in the global market than letting the USAF award stand, assuming the GAO reject’s Boeing’s protest.

Leeham website updated 4/29

Our Corporate Website has been updated with a new Commentary, News Articles and the Boeing Conference Call transcript.

This week we examine the pledge by Boeing CEO James McNerney to tone down the rhetoric in Boeing’s protest of the USAF tanker contract award to Northrop Grumman, and Northrop’s response to McNerney’s pledge. We also touch on the 747-8I, the close tie between GE and Boeing on the 787 program; and Boeing’s Shadow.

The Corporate Site is here.

Profile on Boeing’s McNerney

The Wall Street Journal’s Lynn Lunsford has a good piece on what Boeing’s CEO, Jim McNerney is doing about the 787 and KC-X and how McNerney views things at the moment. It’s a rare interview granted by the low-key McNerney.

Speaking of the tanker, Northrop Grumman, in one of its e-blasts, cites a National Journal story suggesting Boeing is willing to spend an eye-popping $250 million to overturn the tanker decision. Boeing denies the figure. The story may be found here.

News on the tanker, 787, Boeing earnings

The last 24 hours have been busy news days on the tanker and the 787.

Reuters published a story yesterday about the Air Force calling the CEOs of Boeing and Northrop Grumman on the carpet for the vitriolic nature of the protest. Boeing has been engaged in a high profile advertising campaign that many view as a scorched earth approach toward the Air Force. This was the subject of an in-depth column we did last week on our Corporate Website.

Although Boeing kicked off the latest round with its post-protest ad campaign, Northrop hasn’t distinguished itself, either. In e-blasts, Northrop’s language is as over-the-top as is Boeing’s rhetoric. Both companies, which by their nature fall into the “world class” category, ought to be embarrassed by their respective efforts.

Other tanker news in the last 24 hours: US Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate who killed the Boeing KC-767 tanker lease deal in 2004 and who has been blamed (unfairly, in our view) by Democrats for killing Boeing’s chances this time around, told the parties to “get on with it,” as outlined in this report by The Moble Press-Register.

The Citizens Against Government Waste awarded US Reps. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) the “Porker of the Month” award (named for pork-barrel projects, a US term for wasteful government spending) for their efforts to kill the USAF tanker contract with Northrop Grumman. This makes a good sound bite, but The Washington Post previously reported that Northrop helps fund CAGW. Northrop did not confirm or deny the funding story when The Post inquired. So take this one with a grain of salt.

On the 787 front, Jon Ostrower last night obtained a memo to employees from Boeing CEO James McNerney, discussing the 787 program and the production model. Ostrower’s Flightblogger has the write-up and the memo. Dominic Gates at The Seattle Times followed with his story and copy of the memo in today’s paper.

Boeing’s first quarter earnings call is tomorrow at 10:30 EDT. The webcast may be found here. Boeing is expected to reaffirm its 2008 earnings guidance (as it did on the program update), but maybe there will be some information about penalties and lost/deferred revenue. We provided an analyst estimate recap in our own estimate on revenue lost through 2013 in our column last week on our Corporate website. The analyst estimates of penalties range from $800 million to $5 billion. Our guesstimate on revenue loss through 2013 is about $30 billion. Extra production costs are on top of these numbers.

Sorting out reports of new 787 delay

For anyone who has picked up the reports on Yahoo or Google News about the Focus magazine story of another potential round of 787 delays, and Boeing’s response Sunday denying the report, this all must be very confusing.

We don’t know if the report, which cites unidentified sources in the FAA, is correct or not. The report also says Boeing will announce another delay of three to six months in May, though the English-language reporting of the Focus story doesn’t say where this timing information comes from.

What we do know is that since before the 787 roll-out, the FAA has been concerned about a variety of issues relating to the ground-breaking technology of the 787 and has issued several “special condition” rules that Boeing has to meet. This is not anything to get exercised about.

We also have been told, however, on many occasions–also beginning before the roll-out–that the FAA is short on the technical expertise to assess some of the technology and that it’s had to rely on engineers at the US Air Force who have greater experience in composites and other areas than those at the FAA. This lack of technical expertise at the FAA may be what’s at work here, if the Focus report has any validity.

Ominous development for Northrop’s tanker

An ominous political development for the Northrop tanker award by the USAF may be developing in the US Senate.

An article today in The Washington Post discusses the future of Sen. Robert Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Byrd is 90 years old an ailing. He’s been frequently absent from his Senate duties, and here’s where this could become ominous for Northrop. According to The Post, Byrd at times last year turned to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to assume the lead role in appropriations matters.

Murray, known within Washington State (and probably Washington, DC, too) as the Senator from Boeing, has made it her mission to kill the Northrop award. If Byrd’s ill health means turning over reigns, even on spot-issues, to Murray, this does not bode well for Northrop–which, along with partner EADS, has blithely dismissed Murray’s effectiveness as a Senator.

(As a constituent of Murray’s we can attest that she is far more effective than either Northrop or EADS give her credit for.)

Assuming the Democrats gain seats in the Senate in the November election, as conventional wisdom currently concludes, Murray could gain even more clout as a senior member of Appropriations. Regardless of the outcome of the Boeing protest to the GAO over the contract award, Murray’s increasing influence and stature on Senate Appropriations isn’t good news for Northrop.

Boeing Commercial plans for KC-767 protest rejection

Another in a series of cartoons from The Mobile Press-Register’s JD Crowe. The reference to flying tricycles is to a comment a Boeing official made about Northrop Grumman’s planned production model for the KC-30 was like building tricycles at Christmas.

Flight International reported today that Boeing may tap the 767-300ER to help fill the gap created by 787 delays. Writes Flight: “Boeing has yet to tell 787 customers exactly how their delivery schedules will be impacted by the latest delay, but it has floated the idea of producing brand new 767-300ERs to help fill the capacity gap.”

Boeing would gain the 767 capacity from the KC-767 program, which looks doubtful now that the Air Force has awarded the tanker contract to Northrop Grumman. Boeing protested the award, but has acknowledged the likelihood of prevailing is remote. Accordingly, supply-chain and production capacity that had essentially been reserved for the tanker could shift to the commercial 767-300ER.

Boeing should know by June 19 whether the protest will be upheld.

The company would not be able to boost the production all that much vis-a-vis 787 demand, and not immediately. The current production rate of the 767 is one a month; Boeing could double that, or go slightly more to perhaps an incremental 15 a year, or 24-27 a year, including current customers, but not before 2010. By then, Boeing originally planned to be delivering 120 787s a year.

Here’s a Boeing-oriented cartoon.

Boeing complains that a cost disadvantage is that it has to pay for health care costs while Airbus, which builds the A330 on which the KC-30 is based, is part of Europe’s social health care system and doesn’t have this burden. (One could argue the taxes paid by Airbus for the national health care system is their representative burden, but the point in the cartoon is on the mark nonetheless.)

A little humor in a humorless debate….

Northrop’s supplier distribution map.