Farborough Air Show, July 16: Snipe hunts in an era of model improvements

  • Upate, 5:30am PDT: The Wall Street Journal has an article that is more or less on point to the theme of this post.

It doesn’t matter what the competition does, it’s always inferior–until you do it yourself.

The continued, and tiring, war of words between Airbus and Boeing throughout the decades is monotonous and self-serving. If you step back, it’s also amusing.

Consider:

  • Boeing constantly dissed the Airbus concept of fly-by-wire–until ultimately adopting FBW in its airplanes.
  • Airbus dismissed twin-engine ETOPS of the 777 while promoting four-engine safety of its A340–until evolving the A330 into a highly capable ETOPS in its own right.
  • Airbus put-down the 777X, saying the only way Boeing could make it economical was by adding seats…which Airbus has now done for the A330-900 to help its economics.
  • Boeing ridiculed the idea of a re-engined A320, but then had to follow with a re-engined 737 MAX due to the runaway success of the A320neo.
  • Boeing ridicules the A330neo as an old, 1980s airplane–neatly ignoring the fact that the 737 and 747 are 1960s airplanes.
  • Airbus still calls the 777/777X/787 a “dog’s breakfast,” though we know some dogs who eat pretty well.

And so it goes.

The fact of the matter is, however, that minor and major makeovers of existing airplanes have long been a fact of life, maximizing investment and keeping research and development costs under control. The Douglas DC-1 was the prototype for the DC-2, which begot the DC-3. The DC-4 (C-54) begot the DC-6, DC-6B and DC-7 series. The Lockheed Contellation was reworked from the original L-049 through the 647/749/1049 (in various versions) and finally the 1649.

Then came the jet age, with vastly more expense, and model upgrades became the norm. The sniping today between Airbus and Boeing goes unabated in an era of historical model improvements.

Continue reading

No more moonshots stifles innovation

Boeing CEO said there will be no more “moonshots” at Boeing when it comes to future airplane development. Airbus says it will focus on derivatives rather than new airplanes.

After the program debacles of the Airbus A400M and A380 (plus the development cost of the A350) and Boeing 747-8 and 787, we can appreciate the sentiment. However, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney’s statement that doing a new airplane every 25 years is, essentially, bad policy, is disheartening.

Boeing used to be the shining example in the US of innovative technology: The B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52, 707, the versatile 727, the 747, the ETOPS 767, the incredibly reliable 777 and now the 787 (even as troubled as it has been). The 737, best-selling airplane that it is, was not a ground-breaking technology and neither was the 757. But each became solid stable mates in the 7 Series line up.

Airbus also offered ground-breaking technology and concepts. Fly-by-wire. Common cockpits across the family line. Re-engining the A320 family (forcing a reluctant Boeing to do the same with the 737). A technologically impressive A380, even if it’s hardly been the sales success Airbus hoped for.

Innovation and the willingness to taking industrial-leading chances make a company great.

Continue reading

Odds and Ends: AirAsiaX plans A330 order; AA’s livery; vote for TWA heritage livery

AirAsiaX plans A330 order: AirAsiaX, the long-haul low cost carrier, plans a large order for the Airbus A330 this week, according to Bloomberg.

A380′s future: Bloomberg News talks about the future of the Airbus A380 with CEO Fabrice Bregier. Among his comments: no stretch anticipated until 2030.

American Airlines livery: Doug Parker, the new CEO of American Airlines, says employees will get to vote whether to keep the new American livery or restore the double AA/eagle livery to the tail. American will also add a TWA “heritage” livery airplane. US Airways has several heritage paint jobs in its fleet.

So…which TWA era would you like to see? Vote in the poll following the photos.

Continue reading

Odds and Ends: Repairing the Ethiopian 787; the ELT theory

Repairing the 787: The prospect of repairing or writing off the 787 has gained fodder almost on the same level as speculation over the cause of the fire. There have been several articles, including this one yesterday in the Puget Sound Business Journal and this one today from a former NTSB member, writing in Forbes.

Throughout development of the 787, Boeing said repairing the composites was not something they were worried about. But most context related to ramp damage or other minor issues. Clearly, though, Boeing being Boeing, we are confident that engineering took a look at major fuselage damage potential.

In the extreme, Boeing can simply replace the entire aft end, which is depicted in this illustration.

Boeing famously replaced the nose section of a TWA 707 in 1969. The nose section of a BOAC 707 was undamaged and later grafted onto TWA 707-331 N776TW, which had been hijacked as flight 840. The nose was blown off in a Jordanian desert. The repaired aircraft flew for 10 years with TWA. The cost to repair was $4m, according to Wikipedia information (about $20m today).

Update, 9am PDT: Jon Proctor, in Reader Comments, says this BOAC angle is incorrect. He supplied the following photos that demonstrate the replacement nose was fresh from Boeing’s factory.

TWA 707-331B nose repl SEA 9-69

Jon Proctor photo.

TWA 707-331B nose repl SEA 9-69 3

Jon Proctor photo.

Qantas is famous for never having a hull loss, repairing damaged aircraft that others might scrap as beyond economical repair. The Airbus A380 involved in the high-profile QF34 engine explosion was out of service for a couple of years and cost something like $180m to fix, but it flies on today.

A Google search of damaged aircraft that have been repaired and returned to service shows a long list of aircraft that suffered what appears to be far greater damage than the Ethiopian aircraft. The difference, of course, is that the other aircraft were metal and this is composite.

The cost will go beyond the fuselage crown and related structure. The interior, with smoke damage, is toast. Who knows at this stage what damage has been done to systems, either from the fire, the fire-fighting or the knock-on effects.

ELT: Yesterday’s news that the Electronic Locator Transmitter is being looked at as a possible cause of the Heathrow Airport 787 fire predictably created a flurry of media activity over the implications of this prospect. The Wall Street Journal broke the news and a media frenzy ensued. WSJ posted an update late yesterday. We accessed through our subscription; Readers may try Google News to see if it is passed the pay-wall today.

The New York Times has this piece on the ELT and the potential role it may have had in the fire, either as a source or a propagator.

Flight Global has a piece that puts some good perspective on this prospect.

FAA launches 787 system review

The Federal Aviation Administration today launched a review of the Boeing 787′s electrical system.

We start our coverage with a running synopsis of the press conference at 9:30am ET. Presenting are

Michael Huerta, director of the FAA (MH);

Ray LaHood, US Transportation Secretary (RLH); and

Ray Conner, President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (RC).

RLH:

  • #1 priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public.
  • We go the extra mile when it comes to safety.
  • Today we are conducting a comprehensive review of the design and production of the 787, covering critical systems of the aircraft, including design, production and assembly.
  • Will look for the root causes of the recent issues be sure it doesn’t happen again.
  • FAA spent 200,000 hrs in advance of certifying aircraft.

Continue reading

Odds and Ends: 737 MAX development cost; another range boost for A330

737 MAX: We did this story last week on the development cost of the Boeing 737 MAX.

A330: Airbus is going to boost the range of the A330 to make it more closely match that of the Boeing 777 and 787, according to this story.

Fill ‘er up: Here’s a scary story about a goof in aerial refueling of a Boeing 707-based JSTARS.

Continue reading