Odds and End: ExIm fight, again; A350 interior; C-17 production ending early; 787′s longest routes; That’s no bull; MH370

ExIm fight, again: Republicans and the conservative Heritage Foundation are once again attempting to kill the US ExIm Bank, which providing financing support for Boeing airplanes.

This isn’t a sexy topic for our readers, but it’s an important issue we’ve written about many times. While the Republicans and Heritage call this corporate welfare (of which we’re generally disdainful), we disagree in this instance. It’s a matter of competitiveness.

Loren Thompson, with whom we’ve often disagreed, and whose institute is partly funded by Boeing, takes on the effort to kill ExIm in this column. His underlying facts are valid, though his tiresome shot at Airbus subsidies and Boeing’s innocence is laughable once more. The WTO found Boeing received illegal subsidies, too, and of course we just witnessed Boeing getting the largest subsidy in corporate history from Washington (State, that is)–all of which Thompson ignores.

But this National Review magazine (a conservative one) fails in its taking Thompson to task to even mention Airbus, the principal thrust of Thompson’s piece. This is as silly as Thompson’s continued Airbus bashing.

The reason we support ExIm’s continued existence has nothing to do with who gets what subsidies; it has everything to do with the fact that Europe’s export credit agencies fund Airbus airplanes and Boeing needs to have ExIm to compete. (We’d be less harsh about Thompson if he would stick to this topic rather than beating the subsidy drum with highly selective facts on an issue for which he was paid by Boeing to issue a study during the WTO dispute.)

National Review’s critique of Thompson totally ignores the Airbus export credit support challenge. There may be merit to many practices about ExIm to criticize, but these critics need to focus on the ECA competitive advantage for Airbus should ExIm go away. Boeing’s right on this one.

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More A350-800 orders vanish

Twelve more Airbus A350-800 orders vanished as Aircraft Purchase Fleet canceled, according to the latest tally from Airbus. APF is the special purpose company set up for Alitalia Airlines, which is a financial basket case and probably couldn’t finance a Piper Cub, let alone an A350. In this case, the -800s were not upgraded to -900s or -1000s, according to the monthly Airbus Orders and Deliveries tally. There are now just 34 A358s in backlog.

The shrinking backlog further suggests the need for a refresh of the A330 with a re-engine, in our view. Without the A350-800, Airbus won’t have a competitor in the 250 seat sector that has any current technology. An A330neo with new engines would at least fill some of this void.

Meantime, Delta Air Lines issued a Request for Proposals for 50 wide-body aircraft to replace its aging Boeing 747-400s and some 767-300ERs. Delta’s CEO has said he could be interested in the A330neo. Delta eschews new technology, preferring “proven” technology, which could work against the Boeing 777X powered by an entirely new engine. By the time Delta would be ready to take delivery of its order, the A350XWB and its new technology will have been in service for many years. Delta has a deferred order for the Boeing 787-8 it inherited from Northwest Airlines, and this technology will be mature by the time Delta would be able to take delivery, so the 787 family could be in the mix. So could an A330neo, which would most likely be powered by one of the 787′s engine options, the GEnx or the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 TEN. Market intelligence tells us Delta is pushing the GEnx, given its strong relationship with GE.

Rolls-Royce plans for new single-aisle, twin-aisle airplane engines

Rolls-Royce may not be at a cross road but it’s certainly at a fork in the road.

RR sought to be a dual-source supplier for the Boeing 777X, competing with GE Aviation for the privilege; it was generally a given that GE would be a provider. The question was whether it would be the sole supplier or share the platform with another. Pratt & Whitney withdrew, concluding the business case wasn’t there for its proposed big Geared Turbo Fan. RR stayed in the competition, assured by Boeing that it wasn’t a stalking horse to GE.

But GE won the position as exclusive supplier, much to RR’s consternation.

Next, the future of the Airbus A350-800, powered exclusively by RR, is in serious doubt. The backlog is now down to a mere 46 as customer after customer, encouraged by Airbus, up-gauged to the A350-900 and -1000 sub-types. While RR is also the exclusive supplier on each of these models, and the engines are largely common, there has been substantial investment by Rolls on the -800’s application. If the -800 is canceled (as many industry observers believe it will be), RR’s investment is largely down the drain. How does Airbus “make good” to RR for this?

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Implications of the Dubai Air Show orders

With the Dubai Air Show wrapped up, it’s time to assess the events and the implications.

 

Boeing launches 777X

Boeing launched the 777X at the show with orders and commitments for 182 777-9s and 43 777-8s, the latter the Ultra Long Range (ULR) version. These orders were driven by Emirates Airlines, which ordered 115 -9s and 35 -8s.

 

All had been widely telegraphed, and follow Lufthansa Airlines’ order for 34 777-9X previously anounced.

 

The 777-8 competes directly with the 350-passenger Airbus A350-1000; the 777-9, at 407 passengers, is in a class by itself between the -1000 and the 467-seat Boeing 747-8.

 

Boeing forecasts a 20-year demand for 670 350-400 seat (including the 405-seat 777-9) sector. Airbus forecasts a need for 779 aircraft in this sector. Airbus had booked 176 A350-1000 orders going into the show and added 10 more.

 

This means Airbus and Boeing have sold 186 and 259 aircraft in this sector respectively, or 445 in total. Boeing converted three options of the 777-300ER to a firm order. Now we’re at 448, of 67% of the Boeing forecast or 58% of the Airbus forecast. There are 278 777-300ERs in backlog, for a total of 692.

 

There are 306 747-400 passenger models in service and another 23 Combis, or 329. There are 501 777-300s in service. This equals 830 excluding the 777-300ER backlog or 1,108 including the backlog,

 

 

747-400

777-300ER

A350-1000

777-8

777-9

In Service

329

501

0

0

0

Backlog

0

278

186

43

182

Total

329

779

186

43

216

 Sources: Airbus, Boeing

 

We believe the Airbus and Boeing forecasts understate the 20 year demand just on the replacement potential of today’s 1,108 747-400s and 779 777-300ERs in service or on backlog. In addition to the replacement requirement, traffic growth will support more aircraft orders.

 

Airbus and the “A350-1100″

We previously analyzed the Airbus dilemma over how it should meet the development of the 777-9. Airbus doesn’t have a direct competitor to this aircraft, though officials claim the A350-1000 is this competitor. We disagree and so do Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways. According to our Market Intelligence, Airbus has held conversations with Emirates about a stretch “A350-1100″ version. Qatar’s CEO, Akbar Al-Baker, publicly expressed interest in an “1100″ model.

 

Airbus previously dismissed the idea of an “1100″ of roughly equal capacity to the 777-9 because it did not see a market for the airplane of this size. Based on its forecast of 779 airplanes and the existing sales, this logic is apparent. Since then, however, Airbus officials indicated they are at least looking at the possibility, though no formal study is underway.

There is a concern in some quarters that Airbus has already missed this opportunity and Boeing has too great a lead.

We continue to believe Airbus will eventually proceed with the “1100.”

 

Boeing 747-8

We think it significant that no orders were announced for the Boeing 747-8I passenger model or for the 747-8F. We have long believed the 777-9 spells the end of the 747-8I. While Lufthansa Airlines has ordered the 8I, the 777-9 and the Airbus A380 and sees a need for each of these as each serves different market sectors, there is little the 747-8I can do that the more economical 777-9 can’t. Lufthansa likes the 747-8I for hot-and-high airports, such as Mexico City, but there are few of these markets that support the continuation of this airplane now that the 777-9 is official.

 

The 747-8F’s future depends on the recovery of the cargo market. Boeing forecasts this to occur next year. But one cargo conversion company, which doesn’t play in the 747 space, doesn’t see the business case of a new-build 747-8F when there are abundant 747-400Fs parked in the desert and those 329 more passenger and combi aircraft available for conversion at a far less expensive price than it costs to buy new. Additionally, this company believes the belly capacity of the 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300, and the existence of the 777-200LRF, provides plenty of capacity that diminishes the economics and requirement for the 747-8F.

 

Airbus A380

The order by Emirates Airlines for 50 A380s is a badly needed shot in the arm for the program, which saw sales stall at 262 for an extended period (259 net of cancellations). There are several orders that are iffy (Hong Kong Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, two for Air France) and dead (Kingfisher Airlines), among others. Emirates plus a pending confirmation of an MOU for Doric Lease are needed to fill near-term production slot vacancies and boost the book-to-bill deficit in the program.

 

But customer concentration is increased with the Emirates order, now accounting for 140 (42.5%) of the 329 orders confirmed and announced. Airbus continues to bank on airport congestion and traffic growth combining to boost sales. We think the 777-9 will cut into this demand. The question is whether Airbus proceeds with an A350-1100 to retain some of this diversion in the family or whether it allows Boeing the monopoly to do so.

Odds and Ends: 777X Shell game; CSeries updates; EADS unions; More oops

777X Shell Game: TheStreet.com asks whether the Boeing 777X orders announced at the Dubai Air Show amounts to a massive shell game. By this, the column means whether these orders merely will come from other airlines as traffic is diverted from the legacy European, US and Asian airlines to the Middle Eastern carriers as the latter expand their services.

There is no question there will be a diversion of traffic. Boeing a few years ago pointed out the diversion, then at around an estimated 5%, as the Middle Eastern airlines–Emirates, Qatar and Etihad–rapidly expanded into markets. But this is what competition is about. And this is what has got Delta Air Lines of the US so exercised over the US Export Import Bank financing the likes of Emirates Airlines.

Air traffic growth will accommodate some of the competition.

There are more than 1,000 Boeing 747-400s and 777 Classics in operation or on order that will require replacement by the 777X and the Airbus A350-1000. Business Week raises the question, how will Boeing maintain sales of the 777 Classic now that the 777X program has been launched?

CSeries Updates: Bombardier is “mulling” a new program schedule for the CSeries, according to this story from AIN Online. BBD should announce any new timeline for its flight test program, and presumably entry-into-service, within a few weeks. Flight Global reports that the program will see the addition of the second flight test vehicle shortly, which will increase the frequency of flights. Flight Global also reports that BBD officials see more orders and better pricing starting to flow as more flight tests and data from the program comes forth.

Bombardier now has 419 orders and commitments for the airplane.

Here is a profile of BBD’s top official in China.

EADS unions: Lest one forget, Boeing isn’t the only aerospace company with union issues. Airbus parent EADS is facing a walkout next week by one of its unions. Reuters reports the walkout is to protest layoffs as EADS restructures its defense subsidiaries.

Speaking of oops: Yesterday we reported that a Washington State advertisement supporting the Boeing 777X used a picture of an Airbus airplane. This lit up Twitter and made news all over the country. Today we woke up to find Twitter and the news lit up with reports that a Boeing Dreamlifter landed at the wrong airport in Kansas.

Odds and Ends: 777X site; A380 reconfiguration; 777 flashback; PNAA’s 13th annual conference; A350; MC-21

Build 777X “where it makes the most sense:” A Boeing executive, in a CNBC interview, said the 777X would be built “where it makes the most sense.”

CNBC writes that Shephard Hill, president of Boeing International, said, “Honestly, we’re looking within the United States at this point because of the large infrastructure we have there. But again, with the mandate to do it on time, to do it in a quality way, that will drive the decision.”

Meanwhile, Alabama officials revealed they talked with Boeing about locating “some [777X] work” at Boeing’s Huntsville operation. Stories are here and here.

A380 reconfiguration: After our post concerning the secondary market of the Airbus A380 and a figure cited by a lessor that it could cost as much as $20m to reconfigure the airplane (assuming all bells and whistles), we received two emails from readers giving a different perspective.

One wrote that Airbus took the Emirates Airlines specification, which is not as customized as perceived, and outlined three scenarios for reconfiguration.

  • Simply change the cabin colors: $600,000 from Airbus and $500,000 for Buyer Furnished Equipment (BFE).
  • Change three class to two class, with only the upper deck changing: $3.6m in Airbus costs, $1.6m for BFE.
  • High-density, all Y-class, both decks: $4.3m for Airbus costs, $3.5m for BFE.

Another reader wrote that the $20m figure is correct if all existing cabin stuff is tossed and the reconfiguration starts from scratch, but seats and other equipment could be sold to reduce the cost. Going one class, this reader wrote, had a price of between $8m-$10m (slightly higher than that reported by the first reader) and a two class configuration would cost about $5m, roughly the same as noted above.

Flashback on 777 successor: Jon Ostrower, when he was with Flight Global, Tweeted out a flashback down memory lane when we did a podcast with him six years ago, talking about a Boeing 777 successor. We looked pretty smart back then, as it turns out.

PNAA’s 13th Annual Conference: The Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance has released the agenda for its 13th Annual Conference held Feb. 4-6, 2014, in Lynnwood (WA), north of Seattle and south of Everett. Crafted well before the Boeing 777X events of last week, the conference is entitled “What’s Driving Change in the Aerospace Industry”.

Boeing says it will decide within three months where it will build the 777X, or in December or January, the latter just before the conference. Whatever this decision, this specific action will clearly come up at the conference, though it is not specifically a topic on the agenda.

We’re presenting on the State of the Airline Industry on the first day and share a panel on the third day with analysts Michel Merluzeau of G2 Solutions and Richard Aboulafia of The Teal Group. We’ve done this panel each year for several years now, and it’s a free-wheeling discussion of what we’ve heard throughout the conference and events generally.

This conference has now become the largest of its kind on the US West Coast, with nearly 450 attendees this past February. The Big Four airframe OEMs, the Big Three engine OEMs and a host of suppliers and lessors present.

MC-21 program update: ATO.ru, a Russian publication, has this update on the Irkut MC-21 program.

A350-1000: Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, is known for his about-faces at a whim, so much so that he has the nickname U-Turn Al. Once a vocal critic of the Airbus A350-1000, he now says it is a great airplane, according to this interview in Gulf Business. He urges Airbus to consider a larger version of the plane.

Airbus lowers range of A350 on increased capacity assumptions

Airbus this week quietly lowered range for the A350 family on increased capacity assumptions.

The range changes appeared without fanfare on the company’s website. When we inquired, a spokesman said,Seat figures in our public documents have been changed from typical three-class to two-class layouts, as it’s turned out to be a more realistic scenario for most of our customers.  Consequently, as passenger capacity has gone up, the new pax numbers and their calculated weight give lower range figures.”

However, as of Thursday’s close of business, the website still refered to three-class configurations:

A350-800 landing page:

The A350-800 is the shortest fuselage version in Airbus’ new A350 XWB all-new family of mid-sized widebody airliners.  It accommodates 276 passengers in a typical three-class cabin configuration, with a flight range of 8,250 nautical miles.

A350-900 landing page:

This jetliner typically accommodates 315 passengers in a three-class configuration, while offering unbeatable economics in high-density seating and true long-haul capability with a range of up to 7,750 nautical miles.

The A350-900 Specification page still contained this statement:

The A350-900 offering a typical passenger capacity of 314 seats (in a three-class layout) and operating range 8,100 nautical miles.  

A350-1000 landing page:

In a typical three-class configuration, the A350-1000 seats a total of 369 passengers.  Combined with a range of 8,000 nautical miles, this represents a significant revenue-generating advantage for operators. The aircraft also can be configured for a higher-density layout to accommodate up to 400 passengers.

The ranges were previously 8,400nm, 8,100nm and 8,400nm respectively. The previous three-class seating configurations listed were 250, 301 and 350 respectively.

By Friday morning (PST), these landing pages had been fixed, and these now refer to two-class configurations with the capacities as listed above: 276, 315 and 369.

Airbus’ A350-800 dilemma

Last week we discussed Airbus’ A350-1000 dilemma. The -1000 will be a fine airplane, but we concluded the company needs to go forward with a larger capacity “A350-1100″ to match the size of the Boeing 777-9X, but take the Boeing 787-10 approach and be content with sacrificing range in lieu of designing a new wing and engines.

Airbus’ A350 dilemma doesn’t end there. What’s it to do with the A350-800? One fleet planner told us a year or more ago that the “-800 is an expensive A330-300″ with the same operating costs as the larger capacity A350-900.

Airbus has been encouraging customers to move up to the larger A350-900, with Hawaiian Airlines and US Airways the key hold outs. Conventional wisdom says US Airways will swap its order once the merger with American Airlines goes through (which is looking more and more likely, given settlement talks with the Department of Justice). American has a large order for the Boeing 787-9, making the -800 unnecessary in a combined carrier fleet plan.

There are now around 80 -800s in Airbus’ backlog, and even officials at Airbus have been ambiguous about green-lighting production of the -800, which is supposed to enter service in 2016 (after the -900 but before the -1000). We have written several posts in which we concluded the -800 would be re-sequenced to 2018, after the 2017 EIS of the -1000.

We believe there is a very good chance the A350-800 will be dropped in favor of proceeding with an A350-1100.

So what’s Airbus to do in the 250-300 seat space now occupied by the -800 and the aging A330 family?

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Airbus’ A350-1000 dilemma

Airbus has a dilemma with what to do about the A350-1000.

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Does the OEM stick with the -1000 as it is, ceding the 400 seat segment to Boeing with its new 777-9X? Or does it stretch the -1000 (we’ll call it the “1100″ for a placeholder) for what appears to be a very limited market segment?

.

If Airbus does stretch the -1000, what does this stretch look like? One that will match the 9X range and capacity? Or one that matches the capacity but not the range?

Here are the implications of the dilemma facing Airbus.

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Stay the Course

For a long time, Airbus officials said they were satisfied with the design, once tweaked, of the -1000 and they didn’t need to respond to a “paper” airplane. The characterization had a ring to it, for that’s what Boeing officials often said about the -1000: it wasn’t a “real” airplane, they didn’t know what it was, it was a “paper” airplane or some variation thereto.

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Of course, this was rhetoric by both parties. Lufthansa Airlines ordered 34 777-9s. A huge order+option commitment is anticipated at the Dubai Air Show from Emriates Airlines for the -9 and the smaller, ultra-long range (ULR) -8 that is sized directly across from the -1000. Airbus is now faced with the prospect of Boeing once more having a monopoly position with the 777-9 as it did for many years with the 777-300ER.

.

Does Airbus want to cede the 400-seat segment to a Boeing monopoly? The question is, how big is this segment? Is there a business case to build the airplane, or one that’s big enough for two airplanes?

.

Boeing’s current 20 year forecast indicated there is a need for 4,530 “small” twin aisle, 200-300 seat jets and 3,300 for “medium” twin aisle jets, 300-400 seats, for a total 7,830. Airbus forecasts a need for 4,694 250-300 seat jets and 2,085 350-400 seaters, for 6,779 jets, a difference of nearly 1,100-but, then, Airbus doesn’t have a competitor to the 787-8 at the lower end of the small jet sector.

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Airbus further breaks out its forecast: 2,438 250-seat and 2,256 300-seat jets within the “small” twin; and 1,306 350-seat and 779 400-seat jets within the “medium” twin category. Boeing doesn’t subdivide its forecast.

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The 777-9 will kill the near-dormant 747-8 Intercontinental and will likely eat into sales of the Airbus A380. Does Airbus avoid cannibalizing its own product or does it allow Boeing the monopoly to do so?

A350 Range

Source: Great Circle Mapper

Match the 777-9

Airbus could decide that, despite a its own narrow forecast for a 400 seat segment, it would be better to play in this sandbox, whatever the impact on the A380, than to cede this segment to Boeing. The question then arises, does an A350-1100 match the 777-9 in seats (or come close to it) and range, around 8,100nm-8,400nm?

To match means a major undertaking for a small number of airlines that need a plane with this range. It means a new wing–typically a $3bn project, more or less–and new engines in the 104,000-105,000 lb thrust range. The Rolls-Royce Trent XWB on the A350-1000 is 97,000 lbs and it can’t be pushed any farther, our information tells us. The cost of developing an entirely new engine for such a narrow market doesn’t have a business case. One might exist on the presumption that engines have to get bigger, and a new engine design would provide the basis for an entirely new generation of engines. After all, the Trent fundamentally has been around since the A330. It may well be time, but is an A350-1100 the product from which to develop it? Furthermore, it takes at least seven years to develop a new engine and probably a lot longer. The engine is the pacing item, far more than the airframe. Even if the go-ahead were given this minute, Airbus and RR would be hard-pressed to come up with an A350-1100 by 2020, when the 777-9 EIS is anticipated. So…

The 787-10 Approach
The most viable option for stretching the A350-1000 appears to be following the approach Boeing took with the 787-10: a couple of simple fuselage plugs, some enhancements to the existing engines, the same wing and reduced range that covers 90% of the markets required by the airlines–foregoing the miniscule need by Emirates Airlines for that last 5%-10%.

DXB ranges

Source: Great Circle Mapper

An A350-1100 with reduced range of 7,000nm-7,500nm and a 400 seat capacity would have highly favorable cost per available seat miles. It wouldn’t get you from Paris to Tahiti, but how big is this market? It wouldn’t get you from Dubai to Los Angeles, but are billions of dollars worth of R&D to do so going to get the return on investment to make sense for this airplane?

The clear choice, the financially responsible choice, and the expeditious choice appears to follow the Boeing approach and develop an A350-1100 (or, perhaps, the “A350-1000-10″).

Odds and Ends: Repairing the Ethiopian 787; more on A350-1000 stretch; new RR engine study

Ethiopian 787: Dominic Gates at The Seattle Times has a detailed story about how Boeing is repairing the Ethiopian Airlines 787 damaged by a fire at London Heathrow Airport earlier this year. Boeing doesn’t comment for the story–nor for any others–but Gates’ detail in his piece makes for quite interesting reading.

Stretching the A350-1000: More on this topic from Aviation Week. Aside from the technical considerations for the airframe, Rolls-Royce would need to bump up the thrust of the engine to around 104,000 lbs, we’re told. Also: there is the matter of production. Airbus is considering a second production line for the A350, but no decision has been made.

Rolls-Royce studies new engines: Rolls-Royce is studying a new line of engines, according to this Bloomberg article.