Odds and Ends: MH370 tracking; Garuda rules out A380, 747-8; last 747-400 flight; E-Jet vs Turbo-props

MH370 tracking: With Britain’s Immarsat and the Air Accident Investigation Board key to determining the general location of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, The London Telegraph has one of the best narratives of of the behind-the-scenes story of how this came about. The London Independent also has a good story. And here is a story that explains the difficulties of searching in remote oceans.

  • Update, 10:30am PDT: Aviation analyst and former pilot John Nance is profiled in this Puget Sound Business Journal account that includes’ Nance’s theory of MH370. It’s an intriguing theory. He believes this was a deliberate act–either terrorism or murder-suicide–and that once the flight settled out southbound from Malaysia, it was set on auto-pilot and all aboard, including the pilot, were killed by asphyxiation. The airplane flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean; he even gives a speed and angle-of-attack estimate.

Garuda rules out A380, 747-8: The Australian reports that after planning to order either the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 last year, officials have ruled this out.

Last 747-400 flight: Japan’s All Nippon Airlines plans to complete its last Boeing 747-400 flight this month, ending an iconic era in the country where 747s once ruled the skies.

E-Jet vs Turbo-Props: At the ISTAT conference last week, we reported that Embraer says its E-175 E2 is more efficient than similarly sized turbo props on missions of more than 250 miles. This story in The Economic Times of India follows through on this theme.

Odds and Ends: MAS MH370, Day 3; Qatar on A380; A330neo; New Small Airplane

MAS MH370, Day 3: The dominant news last week and over the weekend was, of course, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER. It didn’t just crash (which is the assumption): it vanished, with no trace at all.

There was a tantalizing clue that maybe it turned back toward Malaysia, its origination, based on radar returns. But if it were near the Vietnam coast, why turn back when there probably would have been a closer airport in the event of an emergency?

If the radar report is accurate, and the airplane did turn, the larger question is whether the turn was intention, under the command of the pilots (or hijackers), or whether the turn was induced by some problem with the airplane or engines, or an explosion?

As we wrote over the weekend, the absence of debris along intended flight path suggests the airplane deviated–but this is speculation, albeit perhaps supported by the radar indication of a turn.

Some of our Readers, and observers on television, noted that a few days passed in the case of Air France 447 before debris was spotted. AF447 was the Airbus A330 that disappeared between Rio de Janeiro and Paris in 2009 in the South Atlantic. There are similarities but there are differences, too. AF447 went down well out into the open Atlantic in waters about 15,000 feet deep. MH370 disappeared in a much smaller, confined area where the depths are much shallower: up to 300 feet deep. The entire Gulf is 320,000 square km, no small area to search but certainly far smaller than the South Atlantic where AF447 went down.

Latest developments:

  • It’s now been reported that the oil slicks have been analyzed and are not from MH370.
  • Officials say it was standard procedure to keep the cockpit door locked, in accordance with ICAO rules, and cannot be opened from the outside. We’d point out that this doesn’t rule out a cockpit breach entirely, however.
  • The “passport passengers” were not Asian.

The Wall Street Journal created this graphic that is quite illustrative about the situation. What we haven’t seen anywhere is the location for the “turn” reported by radar.

Mary Kirby and Steve Trimble have opinion pieces about the need for a real-time streaming of information. Kirby’s piece is here and Trimble’s is here. Each have a good argument. One thing they don’t talk about is whether there are international standards that would permit this. We did a story for Kirby when she was editor of APEX magazine about the international standards issue with respect to Wi-Fi on airplanes. That story is here.

Although the details between Wi-Fi and real-time aircraft data streaming are different, we wonder if the over-arching challenge Boeing faced with Wi-Fi is the same or similar for real-time data streaming.

Qatar on A380: Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, is known for his hyperbole and about-faces, but every once in a while he expresses an opinion that has some useful information. His comments about the Airbus A380 is one of these occasions. Take note of the operating costs vs fuel prices and the reference to re-engining the airplane.

A330neo momentum: There continues to be increasing interest among airlines about the prospect of an Airbus A330neo, our Market Intelligence tells us.

New Small Airplane: Here is a 13 page PDF paper written in 2012 and presented to the AIAA discussing the prospects of a twin-aisle operation on 757/737/A320 routes.

Odds and Ends: Repairing composites; More on Rolls-Royce; Boeing layoffs; Book Review; A380 assessment

Repairing composites: Aviation Week has a good article about repairing composites: specifically the Boeing 787 that caught fire at London Heathrow Airport a year ago.

More on Rolls-Royce: Aviation Week also has a longer article to follow up its previous one on the development of new engines by Rolls-Royce. This one details RR’s 20-year engine plan.

Boeing layoffs: It’s one of those good news-bad news things. Boeing announced layoffs for 600 workers in San Antonio (TX). That’s bad news. But it’s because there is little 787 work remaining at this center used to catch up on fixing and finishing 787s during the huge backlog of airplanes. That’s good news. The San Antonio Business Journal has this story.

Separately, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports that St. Louis apparently was the leading contender to be the home for the Boeing 777X if Seattle’s IAM 751 hadn’t approved a new contract.

Book review-The Aviators: We’ve just finished a book focusing on Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker and Jimmy Doolittle and recommend it. The Aviators provides a single location for coverage of these three remarkable pioneers. If you’ve read dedicated biographies of these three, you probably won’t learn much that’s new but if not, this is a great one-stop shop.

Lindbergh was much more than “just” an aviator. He was an environmentalist and a scientist. Aviators also covers the kidnapping of his namesake son. Doolittle’s career as a salesman of airplanes and his hand in urging his employer, Shell Oil, to create 100 octane aviation gas, is chronicled. Rickenbacker’s entry into England is highlighted when British authorities thought him a German spy because of his name.

Aviators follows their stories through to death.

A380 assessment: No, it’s not by Richard Aboulafia, who views the Airbus A380 as his favorite whipping boy. It’s an opinion written by an Aviation Week reporter. It’s not a rousing endorsement of the A380′s future.

Odds and Ends: Rolls follows Pratt with GTF technology; Airbus’ challenge;

Rolls-Royce and GTF: Rolls-Royce today said it will pursue technology for its next big engine that follows the Geared Turbo Fan technology of Pratt & Whitney’s smaller design.

Aviation Week has this story and Bloomberg has this one.

RR says the engine will be ready around 2020, which is just about the time Emirates Airlines would like to see an engine that is 10% more efficient than today’s technologies, for the Airbus A380.

Airbus’ challenge: Reuters has a think-piece about the challenge Airbus faces in the heart-of-the-market twin-aisle sector occupied by the A330 and A350. Bloomberg discusses the A350 challenge in its report of Airbus Group earnings.

Lessons learned from A380, 787 benefit A350

By Leeham Co EU

Lessons learned by Airbus on its A380 production and development by arch-rival Boeing of the troubled 787 appear to be paying off with the A350 XWB.

There are now two A350s operational in the flight test program as it counts down to a fourth quarter delivery target for launch customer Qatar Airways. Testing has passed the 1,000 hour mark and by all accounts is going well. Three test aircraft are coming on line in the next four months to complete the 2,500 flight hours needed for certification. After 1,5 years of delays, the flight test program appears proceeding smoothly and tracking to plan.

Boeing and Bombardier should have had it so good with the 787 and CSeries. The 787 program was delayed nearly four years, interrupted by design and production issues and an in-flight fire on final approach to a landing in Texas involving a power control unit. Bombardier last month announced a new delay, its third, in the CSeries countdown to EIS, this time of 9-15 months.

With flight testing heading for certification in August-September, Airbus says the big challenge is now the production of the serial airplanes. Having been following the production preparations over the last two years, here is our view on how Airbus stands in their industrial ramp up. Airbus plans to ramp up to 10 A350s per month four years after EIS, and it is talking with suppliers about a higher rate.

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Odds and Ends: A350 state loan; Bridging 777 Classic sales; Embraer nabs E2 order; IAM chief speaks out

A350 Loan: The Wall Street Journal reports that Airbus and Germany ended talks about a state loan for the A350 program. Good. Airbus doesn’t need the loan and “divorcing” from state aid frees Airbus to make decisions for the production based on commercial considerations and not politically-driven jobs requirements.

Airbus is considering a second A350 production line to open up slots for the -1000 model. Germany made no secret that this line had to be in Hamburg in exchange for the loan. Our Market Intelligence indicates Airbus may want to locate the line outside Germany and perhaps outside Europe. Ridding itself of continue German meddling is a good thing for Airbus; now it “only” has the unions to deal with.

  • In a Guest Column in Aviation Week, Richard Aboulafia continues his A380-bashing, but what he has to say about challenges facing Airbus in the twin-aisle, heart-of-the-market sector bears reading.

Bridging 777s: Jon Ostrower at The Wall Street Journal published this story today about Boeing’s plans to support the 777 Classic sales in advance of the 777X. He reports that Boeing will try to pair 777 Classic orders with the 777X (something we forecast months ago). Boeing is also going to launch a 777 P2F program, persuading airlines to sell their older 777s to cargo carriers and replace them with new 777 Classic orders. This is a challenge because of the continuing softness in the cargo market and plenty of 747-400s available for conversion and 747-400Fs parked in the desert. Such a plan will make it increasingly difficult to support sales of the new-build 747-8F as well.

Although Boeing said it won’t shave the price on the 777 Classic to stimulate sales, we think it will (as it has on the 737 NG).

Embraer nabs E2 customer: Embraer today announced it won an order from an Indian airline for 50 E190 E2s and 50 E195 E2s with options for 50 each. The airline, Air Costa, is a current E1 customer. This is the first E2 order since the launch of the program at the Paris Air Show last June.

Reuters has an article from the Singapore Air Show quoting the Air Costa CEO. The article takes a look at the “small” aircraft market.

IAM chief speaks out: The president of the International Association of Machinists, Tom Buffenbarger, called the Puget Sound Business Journal to talk about the controversial Boeing 777X contract vote.

Why would Buffenbarger do this? He’s facing his first contested election since 1961 and his opponent is from IAM District 751 right here in Seattle. The article makes fascinating reading.

MC-21 profile: A Russian newspaper provides a profile of the Irkut MC-21 (or MS-21 or Yak-242). Talk about confused branding.

Richard Aboulafia analyzes state of industry, opines on A380neo, what it works for Emirates and other stuff

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst for The Teal Group, is a headline speaker at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance every year. Below are a series of videos of his presentation this year.

He provides an overview of the commercial airline industry in one, and addresses specific issues in others, such as the prospect of an Airbus A380neo. Aboulafia has been a long-time critic of the A380 but he also remarks why this airplane works for Emirates Airlines, its biggest user.

Aboulafia also talks about a variety of other issues, including remarking on Boeing’s cost-cutting Partnership for Success program, which has resulted in a ” no fly” list of Boeing suppliers unwilling (or unable) to cut costs to Boeing’s liking.

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Updating the A380: the prospect of a neo version and what’s involved

Recent headlines and this column report that Airbus is considering re-engining the popular A330 with GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN power plants. A New Engine Option and other changes would improve the A330’s economy by an estimated 10% percent after offsets for increased drag and weight.

But the A330 isn’t the only Airbus airplane being considered for new engines made popular by the A320neo family. Tim Clark, president and chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, urged Airbus to improve efficiency of the giant A380 with engine technology found in newer generation aircraft.

How feasible is an A380neo? What are the technological issues? Would there be enough of an economic gain? And is there a market for an A380neo?

The A380 of today

The A380 has been hailed as a highly efficient airliner since it went into service 2008, assuming the giant plane can be filled. But only six years later, the first voices have been raised that this will not continue to be the case should the continuous improvements that have been flowing into the airframe not pick up speed.

The launch of the Boeing 777X also brought focus on the state of the A380 come the latter part of this decade when the 777-9X enters flight testing in advance of its planned 2020 entry-into-service. Tim Clark expressed  that “it is time that the A380 gets an injection of the new technology which is now becoming available for the A320/737 in the form of GTF/LEAP and GE9X for the 777X. “

Before we look into what can be done short-to–mid-term to inject improved efficiency, let’s establish the baseline as it exists today. The A380 is considered by some the most efficient way of flying passengers between two long haul points if there is enough of demand. The competition today is the Boeing 777-300ER and 747-8i.  (Qantas Airways is dropping some A380 flights that have 50% load factors, demonstrating the aircraft is inefficient if the demand is insufficient.)

Let’s assume we want to transport passengers between San Francisco and Hong Kong, one of the longer flights which are made non-stop in both directions. Going West, it takes a Cathay 777-300ER 15 hours and going East, 12 hours, the difference being due to prevailing headwinds going West. For our check, we will use the more demanding of these legs, which then works out as the equivalent of flying 7,200nm. To compare the three different aircraft in a fair way, we need to load them to the same payload, in our case passengers with luggage. We will not consider cargo in this initial analysis. The leg chosen is not one which allows much weight for cargo, but cargo certainly belongs to a complete analysis of an airplane and we will point out where it will affect any conclusions.  

When comparing the standard three-class seating numbers between the OEMs, it is clear these are not made to the same standards of comfort. Airbus has admitted that the A380 is too lightly loaded at 525 passengers. The 777-300ER at nine abreast and 365 seats is equipped with a comfortable 18’’ economy class at 32’’ pitch but the business class is modeled with a non-standard 48’’ pitch. The 747-8i at 467 seats is not laid out to any comfort standards comparable to the other two. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison we have equipped all aircraft with the same three-class cabin with a standard seating consisting of first class at 81’’ pitch, business class at 60’’ pitch and economy class with 32’’ pitch. Seat widths are 37’’, 22’’ and 18’ respectively and the ratios of the different premium seatings vs. economy are kept the same. Here the aircraft are listed with the in-service year and with their respective payload capabilities:

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Odds and Ends: A330neo decision could be near; KC-46A; Countdown to Superbowl; A400M

A330neo decision: Aviation Week reports that a decision to proceed with the Airbus A330neo could be “imminent.” The report also discusses the advocacy by Tim Clark, COO of Emirates Airlines, to re-engine the Airbus A380. As with the Reuters and Bloomberg articles we previously linked, the Aviation Week piece also confirms much of what we were the first news outlet to report in December. We have a launch in 2014 rather than 2015 reported in Aviation Week, although we both have a decision to proceed for this year. Aviation Week and Bloomberg report that the decision could come as early as March.

Aviation Week confirms our report that Pratt & Whitney would be unlikely to bid on the project because the short time lime precludes development of the big engine version of the Geared Turbo Fan.

KC-46A at ‘high risk’ for delay: A US government report suggests the Boeing KC-46A tanker is at ‘high risk’ of a six month delay.

These are not unusual for military programs, nor, it seems, is it any longer unusual for new or derivative aircraft programs. Boeing believes the program is on time, but even if a six or 12 month delay does emerge, by today’s standards, this indeed is “on time.”

Countdown to Super Bowl: Boeing painted a Boeing 747-8F test plane in the Seattle Seahawks livery and this week “skywrote” the number 12 on a flight. The Seahawks play the Denver Broncos Sunday in New Jersey for the Super Bowl. The number “12″ represents “the 12th man,” of the collective Seahawks fan base.

We think it would be super for the 747 to overfly the game Sunday, the ultimate 12th man appearance. Alas, Boeing says there are no plans to do so.

A400M: Cool picture. No other words needed.

Airbus wins annual results, trails Boeing in deliveries

Airbus announced 1,619 gross orders for 2013–1,503 net orders–and a backlog of 5,559 aircraft. The company delivered 626 aircraft for the year. It ended the year with 51% of the market vs. Boeing.

Boeing won the delivery race but came in second in orders.

CEO Fabrice Bregier said that 10 years ago Airbus delivered only half the aircraft it did in 2013.

Bregier, at the annual press conference, says “re-engining [the A330] is always an option, but not only option,” reports Reuters. “[Airbus COO-Customers John]  Leahy says Airbus could eventually add 1-2 rows to A350-800.”

Aviation Week reports the A350-800 EIS could be moved back a couple of years, also reporting it could be enlarged by two rows.

Bregier says A320 production could increase, reports say from the press conference. (We report in our e-mail distribution today what the production rates will be over the next few years–this will be published on this website next Monday.)

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