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

Farnborough Air Show, July 14: A330 program analysis after neo launch

It was pretty much the worse-kept secret in advance of the Farnborough Air Show this year: Airbus launched the re-engining of the A330, designating the new engine option the A330-800 (the A330-200 successor) and the A330-900 (the A330-300).

Rolls-Royce, as had been widely reported, becomes the sole-source engine provider of the Trent T7000. Airbus also gave it new A350 style winglets and have made enhancements to the cabin with improved seating, IFE and mood lighting, In total Airbus claims to have improved the fuel consumption with 14% per seat. Deliveries will start in Q4 2017.800x600_1405309967_A330-900neo_RR_AIB_01Rebranding the A330, dropping the -200 and -300 names, and adopting the more modern -800/-900 speaks to the significant upgrade of the airplane. Parenthetically, this also follows the pattern set by Boeing decades ago when it went from the 737-200 to the 300/400/500, then the 700/800/900 and now the 7/8/9. It speaks to adopting new technology and is consistent with the sub-type branding of the A350.

Continue reading

Farnborough Air Show, July 13: CSeries program analysis

The unexpected pre-Farnborough Air Show announcement by Bombardier for letters of intent for up to 24 CS100s is welcome news for the company and the program.

Although an announcement by Falko Regional Aircraft Leasing of a firm order would have been more welcome, history shows that LOIs tend to be converted into firm orders eventually, whether these are from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer–or Bombardier. With the Falko LOI, BBD now has 471 firm orders and commitments for the CSeries.

Hand-wringing headlines and stories over May’s engine incident in which a Pratt & Whitney P1000G Geared Turbo Fan during a CSeries ground test and the assumed hugely negative impact on the program these stories and headlines suggest are way overblown.

Continue reading

Boeing should “dual source” 737 fuselage work–right here in Puget Sound

Boeing’s 737 line suffered a second disruption when a train carrying fuselages from Spirit AeroSystems derailed in Montana, sending three of six down an embankment and into a river.

Source: PBS.

The disruption may be short-lived, but nonetheless highlights the issue of relying on Spirit as a sole-source supplier for 737 fuselages. This is the second time in two years there has been a disruption for the 737 line. A tornado struck the Spirit plant in 2012, closing the facility for a short time. Damage was slight, but had the twister been more of a direct hit, the impact on Boeing would have been severe.

With Boeing planning to bring production of the 737 line to 47/mo by 2018 and pondering rate 52 and even rate 60, the company should consider creating a second fuselage production line–and it should be right here in Puget Sound.

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

Embraer’s enhanced E-Jet passenger experience

We flew in a new American Airlines (operated by Republic Airways) Embraer E-Jet E1 on our way to the Pratt & Whitney media day and noticed the difference immediately with the E-Jet” Classic.”

It’s the “passenger experience.”

The E-Jet Classic had overhead bins that were better than the Bombardier CRJ and Embraer ERJ but non as good as the Airbus A320, Boeing 737 or the forthcoming Bombardier CSeries. The bins could accept larger bags than could the CRJ and ERJ but not as big as the other jets. The port side bin in the E-Jet Classic was a narrow little thing that we joked could accept your water bottle and that was about it.

The new E-Jet E1 Enhanced bins are much better. While the port side first class isn’t as big as the starboard side, it now accepts briefcases, tote bags and small backpacks. The star board bin easily accepts roller backs sized for three nights away, though Airbus, Boeing and CSeries still have an advantage.

Boeing’s approach in creating the passenger experience

Passenger experience continues to become more and more of a focus for the Original Equipment Manufacturers, who try to create an atmosphere that’s appealing even as airlines cram more and more seats into airplanes to gain revenue in an environment where ancillary fees often mean the difference between profit and loss.

Cabin ambiance for mainline, and especially intercontinental, jets is a battle that hasn’t gotten much attention until the advent of the Boeing 787. The creation of the Boeing 747, of course, provided unprecedented space and ambiance and the “wide-body” was followed quickly by the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011. Creating the wide-body look for the single aisle airplanes followed, with improvements subsequently in overhead bins and the look of the ceiling. But it wasn’t until the 787 that there was a dramatic change in the cabin interior look and feel. Boeing expanded this look to the 747-8 and the 737.

Continue reading

Odds and Ends: Snookered by Boeing; Superman; Me2Al; Odyssey Airlines

Snookered by Boeing: That’s how one legislator in Washington State put it in the outcry aftermath of Boeing moving engineering jobs out of state despite an $8.7bn set of tax breaks to land the 777X wing production and assembly site here. She went on to say she wouldn’t have voted for the breaks had she known, and she’s so tired of Boeing.

Sound similar to what legislators said after voting for the $3.7bn in tax breaks in 2003 to land the 787 assembly line. Six years later Boeing put 787 Line 2 in Charleston, revealing that the State had failed to add strings to that set of tax breaks to assure all 787 assembly would be done here.

Snookered then and snookered now. What strikes us is that any legislator thought anything different would happen.

Boeing’s job strategy has been very, very clear for years: move engineering, IT and other non-touch labor jobs out of Washington as fast as it can. Move component work out of Washington. And for the 777X assembly work: can you say “robotics”?

IAM 751, the touch-labor union, claimed all along Boeing was snookering membership and the State of Washington and was going to assemble the 777X here anyway, regardless of the contract vote and state incentives (we disagreed, but only McNerney knows for sure).

Washington needs to get used to Boeing moving jobs (hence, our continued refrain of look Beyond Boeing). Aside from Chicago’s long-obvious job transfer plan, robotics and automation will, over time, take an increasingly prominent role in building airplanes. Boeing has been introducing robotics on the 777 Classic line, so expanding this use should be expected.

Superman: This video shows a Boeing 737 being pushed sideways at the gate by strong winds and an icing ramp. The most amazing part of this amazing video is the ramp worker who is trying to stop the airplane. It seems the rampie thinks he can bench press 150,000 lbs.

Me2Al: He’s widely known as U-Turn Al for his propensity to do 180 degrees multiple times on his opinions about airplanes, engines and orders, but now Akbar Al-Baker is becoming Me2Al as well. Long envious of Tim Clark, the president of Emirates Airlines, Al-Baker hooked his wagon to Clark on the 777X last year at the Dubai Air Show, claiming the two carriers negotiated similar specifications at the same time to get a better deal from Boeing.

Now he’s followed Clark’s lead once again, this time jumping on the prospect of the Airbus A380neo.

Odyssey reveals some details: Odyssey Airlines, the business-class start-up carrier that is building its business plan around the Bombardier CSeries, revealed a little bit of its plans in this article. It will have 40 lie-flat seats on the CS100, operate from London City Airport (previously known) and its funding is partially revealed.

Great B-17 Photos: See The Seattle Times montage here.

Boeing notified supply chain: prepare for 52 737s per month

Boeing has notified is supply chain that demand for the 737 is sufficient to support a rate increase to 52 a month by the end of the decade.

In a letter dated January 3, Kent Fisher, vice president of supplier management, set the date for going to 47/mo in July 2017. The year had previously been announced by Boeing. Fisher continued that demand is “sufficient” to take the “protection rate” to 52/mo “later in the decade.”

Production Rates to 2020

“Protection rate” means the Boeing and the suppliers need to protect the ability to increase to the desired rate in terms of tooling, machinery, parts, and their own suppliers. This notification isn’t as firm as announcing an actual production rate increase, but it’s pretty close.

Airbus, meanwhile, continues with construction of its Mobile (AL) plant, with a target operational date of next year. Initial production will be 2/mo, ramping up to 4/mo. The plant has the capacity of 8/mo. This means Airbus increases production of the A320 family to 44 in late 2015 or early 2016, then 46 later in 2016 and 48 to 50 thereafter.

The Airbus and Boeing production rates dwarf those of Bombardier, which is challenging the Big Two OEMs at the lower end of the 100-220 seat sector with the 110-145 seat CSeries, and Embraer, which produces the 100-122 seat E-190/195 E1 today and which is offering the 132 seat E-195 E2 for delivery beginning in 2018.

Airbus’ factories are in Hamburg, Toulouse, Tianjin and from next year, Mobile. Hamburg and Toulouse are currently producing 38 A320 family members a month, weighted toward the latter, and Tianjin is at 4/mo. Tianjin and Mobile have the capacity of 8/mo each; we don’t know the total capacity of the Hamburg and Toulouse plants but are told these are at capacity; Airbus declined comment. This means Airbus has the capacity to go to 54 A320s/mo among the four plants after Mobile is fully operational.

Boeing has the capacity for 63 737s a month at its single Renton (WA) factory. Embraer has the capacity for 17 E-Jets a month. Bombardier plans a capacity of 20/mo for the CSeries.

IAM 751, in dramatic reversal, accepts Boeing 777X contract

The members of the International Association of Machinists District 751, in a dramatic reversal of its November 13 landslide contract rejection, today approved a revised contract offer from Boeing by a vote of 51% to 49%.

Approval means Boeing will produce the new composite wings for the 777X and undertake final assembly of the airplane right here in Puget Sound (Seattle). The 777 Classic is assembled at Boeing’s Everett factory, home to all wide body assembly since it was built specifically for the 747. The 777 Classic’s wings fuselage panels are produced in Japan and shipped to Everett for assembly to the fuselage.

The outcome was in doubt as 751 members began voting at 5am today. Rallies leading up to the vote were largely anti-acceptance. Pro-acceptance rallies were lightly attended.

Sentiment on blogs and in Comment sections of the Seattle papers overwhelmed positive comments. Reports from the field polling places suggested the contract would be rejected.

The vote secures jobs for the IAM members at the expense of ending the defined pension plan in 2016 in favor of a 401(k) approach to retirement benefits. It also extends of Letter of Understanding (#42) providing that 737 MAX and KC-46A tanker production remains in Puget Sound through 2024, to which is when the 2016 contract has now been extended.

The controversial contract may bring mixed feelings to union members, but it brings unfettered job to elected officials, the Puget Sound supply chain and other interested parties who feared Boeing would take all the 777X production elsewhere at the cost of nearly 30,000 direct and indirect jobs and huge hits to the local economy.

But make no mistake: when Boeing proceeds with a new airplane design to replace the 757, followed by one to replace the 737, we’re going to see another round of efforts to browbeat the union and the state into more concessions or give-backs in exchange for production to be located here.

The timeline for decisions for a 757 replacement should begin around 2017. Decisions for a 737 replacement should begin around 2020.