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.

Qatar swaps A319neo to A320neo; just 29-39 orders remain

Qatar Airways has swapped its order for the A319neo in favor of the A320neo, leaving just 29-39 orders remaining for the smallest version of the neo family.

Qatar became the first customer for the A319neo when it placed a surprise order at the 2009 Paris Air Show. Bombardier had negotiated a contract for 20 CSeries to be signed at the show, and with market expectations high, was embarrassed when Qatar’s CEO, Akbar Al-Baker, did one of his famous U-Turns and didn’t proceed. (Al-Baker would embarrass Boeing and Airbus at later air shows by withdrawing an announced deal for the 777-300ER and no-showing at an Airbus press conference.) We were reliably told that the French government intervened with the Qatari government to block the important CSeries order at the Paris Air Show in favor of an order for the A319neo and A320neo.

Avianca Colombia retains an order for nine and Frontier Airlines has 20, according to the Ascend data base. Flight Global reports Avianca has 19 on order, however, and this is the figure shown in an Avianca presentation, probably reflecting options yet to be exercised. Avianca is scheduled to get three in 2017, two in 2018 and the rest in 2019, according to Ascend. Frontier is scheduled to begin taking delivery in December 2018 through 2020.

This means the A319neo, which was supposed to enter service in 2016, six months after the October 2015 EIS for the A320neo, now slips behind the A321neo EIS.

The new EIS schedule means the A319neo still is planned to enter service two years before Boeing’s 737-7 MAX but two years after Bombardier’s CS300. Embraer’s E-195 E2, which seats 133 in single class to the A319neo’s 156 in single class, is scheduled to enter service in 2019.

The Frontier order is iffy, we believe. The CEO, David Siegel, told us a couple of years ago economics of the A319 aren’t very good in today’s fuel environment and favored the larger A320. Frontier was then owned by Republic Airways Holdings and was sold this year to Indigo, an investment group (not related to India’s Indigo Airlines). Indigo was principal owner of Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier in the US. Siegel has been transforming Frontier from a low cost carrier to a ULCC. The new ownership is certain to accelerate this transition.

We expect the new ownership will also favor the A320neo and A321neo, and that eventually the order for the A319neo will be up-sized. We believe Avianca will inevitably follow.

This means Airbus will probably drop the A319neo eventually. The A319ceo may be retained through 2019 at steeply discounted prices, but more likely the A320ceo with deep discounts will be Airbus’ continuing competitive response to Bombardier’s CS300 and, to a lesser extent, Embraer’s E-195 E2.

Boeing has sold the 737-7 only to Southwest Airlines and WestJet. Southwest is said to need the 737-7 for its Midway Airport operations. Air Canada has the option to convert some of its 737 MAX orders to the -7.

Odds and Ends: Avoiding risk; Avoid 787 goofs with 777X; Anticipation for the 777X; CSeries expectations

Avoiding Risk: Jetmakers avoid risk by revamping existing models.

Avoid 787 goofs with 777X: This Reuters article reports how challenging the brand damage has become with the 787 issues, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard the link.

Looking forward to 777X: Akbar Al-Baker didn’t say much during the grounding of the 787, but he’s back in the news now. He looks forward to the 777X but couldn’t resist complaining about the GE90 on the current 777. That’s odd: the GE90 has only been in service since the creation of the 777-300ER and is well regarded in the industry. But Al-Baker being Al-Baker–need we say more?

CSeries Expectations: Bombardier says first flight will be next month. Expectations are beginning to increase, according to this article.

Odds and Ends: Test sites for UAVs; Qatar CEO on 787; more on 747F crash

Support for UAVs: Innovate Washington, an arm of the State, is promoting sites in Washington as test sites for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). There are 37 states seeking to become test sites for UAVs.

The Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance on April 30 issued an endorsement of the plan.

Boeing’s Insitu unit builds UAVs and is headquartered in Washington.

Qatar’s CEO on 787: Akbar Al-Baker, the outspoken CEO of Qatar Airways, was remarkably quiet during the three-month grounding of the Boeing 787. He’s usually a pain in the rear to a number of OEMs with his public criticism. He’s back in the news today. He says Boeing will compensate Qatar for the grounding and adds he thinks the grounding was an over-reaction to Social Media coverage of the JAL and ANA events. He said the evacuation of the ANA 787 was “unnecessary,” according to the news report.

Retry on Boeing apology: Seems we linked a Wall Street Journal article to the posting on Boeing’s apology in Japan for the 787 problems. Let’s try this one again: Here is the story we meant to link.

More on 747F crash: Flight Global’s air safety expert weighs in the the video of the National Air Cargo crash.

Odds and Ends: NTSB issues 787 report today; FAA readies OK; A350-800 future debated

NTSB Report Comes Today: The National Transportation Safety Board issues its preliminary report on the Boeing 787 JAL fire today, around 11am ET.  Here is the NTSB 787 page that has been updated throughout the process. We’re traveling and may not be able to pick up the report as it comes out, so Readers, please do so and post in Comments; we’ll upgrade to a fresh post when able.

FAA readies OK for 787 plan: The FAA is expected to give Boeing the green light to begin implementing its proposed plans to fix the 787 battery issues. We expect this approval to be Friday or next week. Extensive testing will be required, but the length remains unclear. The NTSB report may or may not have implications.

Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation (the FAA is part of DOT), still has questions. See this Wall Street Journal article via Google News, so it should be readable to all. A key paragraph:

[P]ushback against a quick final decision from Mr. LaHood—who oversees the FAA and must sign off on any package of fixes—and from regulators in Japan threatens to delay the more important resumption of Dreamliner commercial flights for months, according to industry and government officials. (Emphasis added.)

And:

A team of FAA technical experts is urging preliminary approval of Boeing’s plan, and FAA chief Michael Huerta appears likely to agree within a week or so, the officials said. That would establish a framework that could allow Boeing to begin test flights as soon as the third week in March. Results from those flights would have to be analyzed by agency officials and reviewed by Secretary LaHood and his staff before Boeing could seek permission to retrofit aircraft and seek new certification. Routine certification tests for batteries take four or five weeks, according to industry officials.

A350-800 future debated: Qatar Airways’ vociferous CEO, Akbar Al-Baker says Airbus is dropping the A350-800. Airbus says it’s not. (Also here.) Aeroturbopower has this interesting post on the subject.

Bombardier Reveals CSeries today: Bombardier will have its “reveal” of the CSeries today in a ceremony that isn’t quite a roll-out in the party-like fashion usually accompanying a new aircraft type. Rather, invited guests will visit the assembly line to see the completed aircraft. BBD isn’t taking the airplane off the production line so it doesn’t lose production time. The Wall Street Journal has this description via Google News.

2012’s Most Influential Person in Commercial Aviation

In 2011 John Leahy of Airbus was voted the most influential person. Who do you think is the most influential this year? We’ll hide the results until the voting is complete.

A350-800 future: Airbus says it stays firm; here’s what customers tell us

Flight Global has this story in which Airbus says it remains committed to the A350-800, a sub-type that is the smallest of the A350 family and which has been the subject of much speculation that Airbus will choose not to proceed with it.

Airbus hasn’t helped matters because it’s been encouraging customers to switch to the larger A350-900. John Leahy, COO-Customers, some time ago told us the larger -900 is more profitable for Airbus and customers could get deliveries sooner.

But, according to customers we talk to, there are other reasons, too. First, according to one customer, is that Airbus is de-risking the program by getting customers to switch to the -900. The program has been delayed nearly two years and customers expect at least one more delay of three to six months to entry into service. Airbus is concentrating resources on the -900, and by switching customers from the -800, Airbus relieves the pressure on these resources.

This customer, which has switched its orders from the -800 to the -900, believes Airbus will build the -800.

Flight Global has this story which echoes what we’ve been told, citing Akbar Al-Baker of Qatar Airways: he switched from the -800 to the -900 because of the delays. But he now believes Airbus should discontinue offering the -800.

Airbus declined comment on the tie between delays and the switches.

Another customer switched its order did so simply because it likes the operating economics and revenue potential of the larger -900 better than the -800.

A key supplier, however, takes a dimmer view. The person we talked with believes Airbus will let the A350-800 go away, but this is his personal opinion and says that his company hasn’t heard anything to suggest this will be the case.

Eliminating the -800 would leave Airbus without a new technology competitor to the Boeing 787-9. Although some, including Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia, believe Airbus should proceed with an A330neo. Airbus so far dismisses such suggestions and it has not asked engine makers to consider such a possibility. But one airline fleet planner told us that he believes Airbus will one day proceed with the A330neo with an EIS of around 2020. This means Airbus would not have to ask engine makers to explore the possibility until next year or even 2014. So what is true today may or may not be true “tomorrow.”

Qatar wants to be first 787-10 customer; praises EU for ‘face-saving’ freeze of ETS

Akbar Al-Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, said he wants to be the first customer for the Boeing 787-10. He has some competition for this status.

Boeing is talking with customers now for the new sub-type, which is expected to get the Board go-ahead this month. Air Lease Corp., British Airways and Singapore Airlines have widely been identified as likely launch customers in market talk.

Also at the delivery ceremony for Qatar’s first 787-8, Al-Baker praised the European Union for freezing plans to impose its carbon trading scheme called ETS. He termed the move “face-saving,” noting that several countries ordered their airlines to refuse payment, led by France China.

“This was a very wise decision,” Al-Baker said.

Qatar takes delivery of Middle East’s first 787

Qatar Airways took delivery November 12 of the Middle East’s first Boeing 787. Qatar took contractual delivery of the airplane earlier but physical possession in ceremonies at Boeing Field Monday night.

CEO Akbar Al-Baker said the carrier will take delivery of four more 787s this year. Deliveries of a total of 59 continue into 2017.

Al-Baker said Qatar has conversion rights between the 787-8, the 787-9 and the forthcoming 787-10. Although Boeing and Qatar have discussed the -10, Boeing has yet to formally launch the program. Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said formal Authority to Offer the -10 will be coming soon. Customers who recently attended a Boeing meeting expect the ATO to come this month. It had been expected last month, but the Board had additional questions, customers tell us.

Al-Baker called the 787-10 the most cost efficient aircraft on a unit (seat mile) basis.

Odds and Ends: 787-9 progress but Qatar blast Boeing; EADS; Airbus

Boeing 787-9 progress: Aviation Week has this article detailing progress in the 787-9 program.

Qatar blasts Boeing: In what should come as absolutely no surprise, Qatar’s vocal CEO took his displeasure with Boeing public, blasting the company for late deliveries of the 787-8. Qatar’s first 787 was supposed to be handed over in August but has not for undisclosed reasons. Flight Global has this interview with Al-Baker, which dates from about a year ago.

Boosting the take-off: Airbus is looking at assist for take-offs to allow for shorter runways. This is not a new concept. This Google images page show lots of variations in Jet Assisted Take Off, many dating to piston days. We remember seeing a photo elsewhere of a Braniff Airways DC-4 or DC-6 using JATO for La Paz, Bolivia’s, high altitude airport but couldn’t fine one on Google.

EADS-BAE merger trouble: Government interference could tank the merger, Reuters reports.