Mitsubishi rolls out MRJ90

Mitsubishi rolled out its MRJ90 regional jet, the first passenger airliner to be produced in Japan since the YS-11 turbo-prop in 1962.

The MRJ90 challenges the Embraer E-175/190 and E2 and the Bombardier CRJ900. The smaller MRJ70 won’t be developed until after the MRJ90 is well on its way. The MRJ90 faces six months of ground testing before the first flight test. Entry into service is now scheduled for June 2017, some four years late.

The MRJ90 is a 2×2 configuration with 18 inch wide seats and aisle, making it nearly as wide as the E-Jets, which are fractionally wider. The MRJ will have better passenger comfort than the CRJ, a ground-breaking airplane in its day but increasingly outmoded when it comes to passenger comfort.

The Mitsubishi is a clean-sheet design, but Embraer claims its new E-Jet, with a new wing, the same Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, a new fly-by-wire system, a smaller tailplane, and aerodynamic improvements, will nonetheless beat the MRJ’s economics.

Regardless, we believe the MRJ and Embraer will dominate the 70-99 seat market. BBD’s share of this sector continues to decline. The Sukhoi SSJ100, while posting reasonably good orders, is and will remain handicapped by its Russian lineage and overhang of Russian politics. Production and delivery rates haven’t lived up to promises.

Mitsubishi, while discovering that being an airplane integrator is much more difficult than being a supplier (it designed and built the wings for the Boeing 787, which produced challenges in its own right), should in the end produce a solid airplane.

The company has been looking into this long enough. We recall that at least 15 years ago Mitsubishi made the rounds of US regional airlines getting input about what a new airplane might be. At that point, the 50-seat market was still viable. We were retained by a consultant to Mitsubishi to facilitate a meeting with a regional airline–so we know how far back this goes, and what Mitsubishi was asking. (We thought at the time Mitsubishi needed to go “up,” rather than do a “me too.”)

Mitsubishi has already talked about an MRJ100, but there are no firm plans.

Embraer becomes #3 commercial aircraft company on E-Jet families

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Introduction
Embraer is now the #3 commercial airplane manufacturer, after Airbus and Boeing and supplanting Bombardier, capturing 50% of the orders and 60% of the deliveries in recent years.

We examined the relevancy of the 100-149 seat sector Monday. Embraer is playing an increasingly important role in this sector.

The Brazilian company entered the regional jet field after Bombardier, designing its ERJ (Embraer Regional Jet) to go up against the BBD CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet), at a time when the latter created an entirely new market.

Deciding that the ERJ was no longer competitive, EMB rolled the dice and in the 1990s designed a clean-sheet jet, the E-Jet, that brought mainline cabin standards to the 70-120 seat sector.

More recently, with its CRJs outclassed by the E-Jets, Bombardier took the gamble and designed a clean-sheet CSeries for the 100-149 seat sector, a decision that still draws controversy. With the E-Jet facing economic obsolescence by BBD’s move, this time Embraer decided to bypass a new design and went with an extreme makeover, the re-engined, re-winged E-Jet E2.

Summary

  • Embraer’s E-Jet E2 is less than 50% common to the legacy E-Jet.
  • EMB claims the E2 is as efficient as a clean-sheet airplane for a fraction of the cost to develop.
  • EMB has more than 500 orders and commitments for the new E2.
  • Airbus, Boeing are also-rans in the 125-149 seat sector.
  • Mitsubishi, Sukhoi gaining strength.

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Leeham News launches Premium plan, companion to free content; engineer joins staff

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Leeham News and Comment (LNC) today launched a Premium subscription plan as a companion to free content.

LNC has provided news and commentary since February 2008, providing industry-leading information and insightful analysis, principally focuses on Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer but also including emerging challengers to the Big Four OEMs, the leading engine manufacturers, suppliers and airline news.

LNC has been a leading resource of news and comment throughout the commercial aviation industry and its professional followers in the aerospace supply chain, investment analysts and the media.

Since the first of this year, LNC increasingly provided more and more technically-based content. This content is valuable and supplements the industry-leading news and reporting that has been provided since 2008. We are pleased to announce the addition to our staff, Bjorn Fehrm, who focuses on technical evaluation and complements the strategic expertise of Scott Hamilton, the founder of LNC and Leeham Co. consultancy.

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New and Derivative airplanes: Some good, some not; Part 1

First of two parts.

Earlier this year, Airbus officials said they will concentrate on improving existing airplanes once the A350 enters service.

Boeing followed by saying it would not take any “moonshots” and develop new airplanes, at least for some indeterminate time.

The sentiment on the part of both companies is understandable if not disappointing for aviation purists who want to see new and innovative airplane models rather than made-over sub-types.

This is one of those cases where both schools of thought are right. (Text continues below photo.)

Later this month, we will unveil a new, updated Leeham News and Comment with a combination of paid and free content. Watch this space for more information.

Later this month, we will unveil a new, updated Leeham News and Comment with a combination of paid and free content. Watch this space for more information.

New airplanes are, to state the obvious, very expensive to develop and in this increasingly technological age and demand for “smarter” airplanes that are more fuel efficient and which try to improve passenger experience while cramming as many revenue-paying passengers into the airplane as possible, becoming more and more challenging. Where it once was possible to bring an airplane to market within four years of launch, today airframers routinely look at seven years and even eight. Even derivative airplanes are now taking six or seven years to enter service from launch.

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Assessing the 70-90 seat regional jet sector

Introduction

Major orders last week for Bombardier and Mitsubishi and the release of the Airbus Global Market Forecast provide an opportunity to look at market segments that don’t get a lot of attention in the shadow of the greater focus on the A320/737 and medium-twin aisle sectors.

These over-shadowed sectors are the 70-99 seat regional jet; the 100-149 seat single-aisle market; and the Very Large Aircraft.

Due to the scope and length of each examination, we will detail these sectors in three parts.

Summary

• Embraer and Mitsubishi will dominate the 70-99 seat sector;
• Embraer and Bombardier will dominate the 100-149 seat sector;
• Airbus and Boeing have largely withdrawn from the 100-149 seat sector;
• Airbus clings to unrealistic 20-year forecast in the VLA sector, but Boeing is a non-player today and in the future.

Part 1: 70-99 Seat Sector
This is a shrinking market for the regional jet as increasing fuel prices make it more and more difficult for regional jets to be economical. Nonetheless, there are several established and new entrant players in the market:

• Bombardier, with the CRJ-700, CRJ-900 and CRJ-1000
• Embraer, with the in-production E-170/175 and E-190/195
• COMAC/AVIC, with the ARJ-21 70 and 90-seat models
• Mitsubishi, with the MRJ-70 and MRJ-90
• Suhkoi, with the SSJ-100

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Bombardier woes go beyond CSeries

The news last week that Bombardier reorganized its business units, laid off another 1,800 employees and saw the retirement of Guy Hachey, president and CEO of the aerospace division, was viewed by some media and observers as an indictment of the CSeries program. While it’s certainly true that delays in the program weigh heavily on BBD, the problems don’t stop with CSeries.

Bombardier has 203 firm orders and 310 commitments for CSeries. This delivery stream doesn't include any potential rescheduling as a result of the grounding of the Flight Test fleet from May as a result of the engine incident.

Bombardier has 203 firm orders and 310 commitments for CSeries. This delivery stream doesn’t include any potential rescheduling as a result of the grounding of the Flight Test fleet from May as a result of the engine incident.

Slow sales of the CRJ, Q400 and business jets–as well as program development issues with a new corporate jet–all combined to drag down financial performance and bleed cash. Bombardier doesn’t have the balance sheet strength of Boeing or Airbus, nor strong sales of other airplane family members, to weather the challenges of new airplane development programs.

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Looking ahead to 2014

Here’s what to look for in 2014 in commercial aviation.

Airbus

A350 XWB: The high-profile A350 XWB program continues flight testing this year. Entry-into-service has been a sliding target. The program is running about 18 months behind original plan and EIS was intended for mid-year following initial delays. Even this has slipped, first to September and then to “the fourth quarter.” Currently first delivery is scheduled in October to launch customer Qatar Airways, which is slated to get four A350-900s this year. Emirates Airlines is listed as getting two of the total of six scheduled for delivery.

A320neo: Lost in the shadow of the A350 program is the A320neo. Final assembly of the first aircraft is to begin in the spring and first flight, followed by testing, is scheduled for this fall. The Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan is the initial variant. First delivery is scheduled in the fall of 2015.

Others: Airbus continues to evaluate whether to proceed with developing an A330neo. Based on our Market Intelligence, we expect a decision to proceed will come this year. Concurrently with this, we expect most if not all of the remaining 61 orders for the A350-800 to be upgraded to the A350-900 and the -800 program to be officially rescheduled if not dropped. The -800 is currently supposed to enter service in 2016, followed by the A350-1000 in 2017. But recall that as delays mounted on the A350-900, Airbus shifted engineers to the -900 and the -1000 at the expense of the -800. Salesmen have consistently shifted orders from the -800 to the larger models. We long ago anticipated the -800’s EIS would be rescheduled to 2018, following the -1000. The -800’s economics aren’t compelling enough just justify the expensive list price. So we expect Airbus to upgrade the A330 to a new engine option, using either or both of the Trent 1000 TEN and GEnx with PIPs (Performance Improvement Packages) or with some modifications. EIS would be about 2018. This precludes Pratt & Whitney from offering a large version of the Geared Turbo Fan, which wouldn’t be ready by then.

We also expect Airbus and the engine makers to look at re-engining the A380, driven by desires of Emirates Airlines to see a 10% economic improvement. Emirates announced an order for 50 A380s at the Dubai Air Show but instead of ordering the incumbent engine from Engine Alliance for these, Emirates left the engine choice open. This leaves open the possibility the A330neo and the “A380RE” could share an engine choice.

Boeing

After many years of turmoil, 2014 should be quiet for Boeing (now that the IAM issues have been resolved—see below).

787: Barring any untoward and unexpected issues, Boeing seems at long last to be on an upward trajectory with this program—but we’ve said this before. There are still nagging dispatch and fleet reliability issues on the 787-8 fleet to resolve, but flight testing of the 787-9 appears to be going well. Certification and first delivery should come without trouble this year, to launch customer Air New Zealand.

737: Nothing to report on the Next Generation program except ramp-up to a production rate of 42/mo is to take effect this year. Development continues on the 737 MAX.

Others: The 777 Classic is humming along. Now that the 777X is launched, we’ll be closely watching sales for the Classic; Boeing has a three year backlog but six years to 777X’s EIS. How is Boeing going to fill this gap, and what kind of price cuts will be offered to do so?

The 747-8 continues to struggle, barely holding on. Boeing says it thinks the cargo market will recover this year, boosting sales of the 747-8F. We’re dubious.

The 767 commercial program continues to wind down. The 767-based KC-46A program ramps up.

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Odds and Ends: MC-21 to be renamed; Boeing buys land; seat wars ahead?

MC-21 to be renamed: After creating a brand for the Russian Irkut MC-21, authorities have decided to rename the airplane the Yak 242, according to this article in Flight International.

The article is too brief to explain the reasons behind this, other than to indicate the MC-21 evolved out of a design that was designated Yak-242. The MC-21 is somewhat larger than the 242 and it is a direct challenger to Airbus and Boeing in the 150-210 seat sector.

Among our activities, we engage in branding. We don’t think this is a particularly smart move on Russia’s part. Returning to the Yak name is a throwback to the old Soviet Union and the history of Soviet airliners that left a lot to be desired. The “Irkut MC-21″ name creates some distance to this history in the effort to sell the airplane outside the old Soviet political sphere.

The Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100, which has had some success selling beyond the sphere, nonetheless reinforces the history of troubled Soviet airliners. Production has been painfully slow and in-service reliability difficult.

We think the Irkut name should be retained, a move toward the future, not one toward the past.

Boeing buys more Charleston land: The US government shutdown delayed the land purchased by Boeing of federally property around the Charleston (SC) airport. Now that the government is open again, the purchase has moved forward, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. According to reports, Boeing now owns or has under contract slightly more land at Charleston than it owns at Everett.

Boeing has been shifting work from Washington to Charleston, and the trend toward purchasing land means this will continue. We continue to believe that when clean-sheet airplanes come out of the Boeing shop to replace the 737 and 777, production of these will be at Charleston. Hopefully the demand for the 737 replacement will be high enough that production will be split between Washington and Charleston. We can foresee a scenario where Boeing has a more equal split between the two locations, such as Airbus has with Hamburg and Toulouse.

But the immediate question is whether the 777X derivative will be built in Washington or Charleston. We’ve heard both scenarios but don’t have enough information to know which is correct.

Seats Wars pending? Airbus has called for an industry standard for 18-inch wide seats in coach. Plane Talking has an analysis of this. We’ll point out that Embraer already has 18-inch seats as standard in its E-Jets and Bombardier has 18-inch window-and-aisle seats plus a 19-inch middle seat for its CSeries. This makes the E-Jet and the CSeries the most comfortable domestic airplanes available, with the middle-seat bonus for the CSeries.

We haven’t flown coach internationally for years, but we do so domestically and have been crabbing about the 17 inch seat on the Boeing 737 for a long time. With the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 nine-abreast essentially the same width, we believe airlines and their drive toward cramming as many seats in as possible to the total disregard of passenger comfort certainly merits international standards at 18 inches.

But we’re not deceived that this proposal is altruistic on the part of Airbus. Boeing’s ability to accommodate one more row of seats with a slightly wider standard than Airbus, reducing CASM in the process, is clearly the motive. When Boeing compares today’s 777 against the A350 in sales campaigns, it uses 10 abreast in coach vs nine abreast for the A350 and argues superior CASM costs. Customers tell us this indeed reduces the CASM advantage the A350 has at an apples-to-apples 9 v 9 (the A350 continues to maintain a trip cost advantage).

We agree with Airbus on the principal. But far chance it will happen.

Production wars coming: Airbus v Boeing

If some industry observers are concerned about the prospect of over-production now, the current state of affairs may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bergier says he expects to boost production of the A320 and A350 families over the next few years, overtaking Boeing by 2018.

Airbus currently produces the A320 at a rate of 42 per month. The A330 rate is 10/mo and the A380 at 3/mo. Production of the first customer-destined A350 is to begin by the end of this year, with a targeted delivery in the second half of next year. Ramp-up to an initial production target of 10/mo is planned over a four year period, but the wing factory in Broughton, Wales, has a capacity for 13/mo, inferring a greater rate is already planned. Airbus is considering a second A350 production line, largely focused on the A350-1000.

Boeing currently produces the 737 at 38/mo, going to 42/mo next year. The 777 rate is 8.3/mo and the 747-8F/I rate is 1.75/mo. The 767, driven by the USAF tanker, is 1.5/mo. The 787 is ramping up to 10.mo, with a target by year end, but we believe this will be more likely in Q12014.

Boeing has notified the supply chain to consider higher rates for the 737, 767 and 787. We posted the chart below last June, reflecting the higher planning rates.

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Odds and Ends: MAKS summary; Airbus look; A350 launch aid; slow freighter sales

MAKS Air Show Summary: This account summarizes the orders placed at the Moscow Air Show, known as MAKS. It appears only Bombardier among Western OEMs made any commercial deals.

Looking at Airbus: Aspire Aviation takes a long look at Airbus.

A350 Launch Aid: Airbus and Germany are at odds over more than 600m Euros of a 1.1bn Euro loan for development of the A350 XWB. The sticking point: job allocation. Why Airbus needs or wants this government-sponsored launch aid remains a mystery to us. Get the governments out of its knickers and be a true commercial company.

Slow freighter sales: This report details slow freighter sales for Boeing and Airbus. This is reflected in the poor sales of the Boeing 747-8F and the Airbus A330-200F.