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: AirAsia on A330neo, A380; 777X specificiations; A380 engine PIPs

AirAsia on Airbus: AirAsia Group is one of Airbus’ largest customers, and its CEO Tony Fernandes is increasingly influential in the Asian sector. He’s also into car racing, often betting Virgin Group’s Richard Branson. This short interview details Fernandes’ view on the prospective A330neo–something Fernandes has been pushing for some time–and what he thinks Airbus should do with the A380.

Looking at the 777X: Aviation Week has a detailed look at the Boeing 777X “under the skin.” Fuel burn, engine thrust and general specifications are in the article. Aviation Week also has a series of videos from the Dubai Air Show here. Topics: 777X, Qatar Airways and A380 engines. On the latter, Emirates CEO Tim Clark suggests putting the new GE9X or Rolls-Royce Trent on the A380 to reduce fuel burn by 10%.

Odds and Ends: Boeing moves jobs from WA State; CSeries FTV 1; A350 power up; 787-9 assembly; 777

Moving jobs out of Washington: The Seattle Times has a story about last Friday’s announcement that Boeing is moving more engineering jobs out of Washington.

CSeries: Airliners.net had this photo over the weekend. The first flight is expected after the Paris Air Show.

Bombardier CS100 Flight Test Vehicle #1.

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Airbus has powered up the engines on the A350 for the first time. First flight is expected within weeks, likely before the Paris Air Show.

A350

Airbus photo.

Smaller jet demand: The smallest Airbus and Boeing jets have weak demand, reports Aviation Week. And we’re not just talking about the A319 and 737-700/7.

787-9 Assembly begins: It was a busy weekend, with all of the above and capped by the start of 787-9 assembly. The first three 789s will be built on the Surge Line at Everett.

777 Painting: We linked two stories last week, to KING 5 and to The Seattle Times, about the robotic wing painting for the 777 line. Here is a photo:

777 Automated Spray Method

Boeing photo

Boeing currently is only robotically painting wings going on even-numbered line numbers. Wings going on the odd-numbered lines are still painted by hand for now. Because the program is new, the programmers continue to adjust the software between the even- and odd-numbered line wings, and eventually all the 777 wings will be painted robotically.

The paint shop is big enough to accommodate 777X wings, including the folding wing tips. This, of course, implies the 777X will be assembled in Everett. It’s unclear where the wings will be built.

The robotic painting is part of the 777 Lean manufacturing begun in 2005, which in the entire process has enabled Boeing to boost 777 production to 8.3 a month within the same assembly line space.

While this is the highest twin-aisle rate Boeing has produced to-date, Airbus has been assembling A330s at rate 10/mo for some time and is considering going to rate 11. Boeing, of course, will be at rate 10 for the 787 by year end. Airbus long ago announced plans to go to rate 10 for the A350 four years after EIS, but John Leahy is already pushing for a second assembly line to accommodate A350-1000 demand.

Odds and Ends: Mike Mecham, aviation fixture, retires; 777 robotics

Mike Mecham is a fixture in aviation journalism. He is retiring after 26 years with Aviation Week.

We’ve known Mike only for a few of these 26 years. He’s a cantankerous curmudgeon infamous for his monopolizing press events as if he was doing a one-on-one, totally oblivious to two dozen other journalists waiting their turn to question the subject, and having a jaundiced view of just about everything.

And that’s what made him so likeable in spite of himself.

At Boeing’s media dinner at the end of Day One of the pre-Paris Air Show briefing, Boeing’s Commercial Corp Com arose to wish him well, tell some stories and give him an airplane. True to form, Cranky Mikey remarked he hoped it wasn’t a 787 with batteries. (It was a 747-8 model.)

Mike was virtually joined at the hip with Guy Norris, another AvWeek journalist. No matter what the event, Guy and Mike appeared together. This constant companionship inevitably inspired ribald commentary. We have to believe Guy will go through withdrawal.

We asked Mike as we were boarding our respective buses off the Boeing property at the end of Day 2 what he planned to do in retirement. Mike plans to eschew aviation and commune with nature. We shudder to think how Mother Nature will greet this news; she and her creations will never be the same.

AirInsight has this 3 1/2 minute video with Mike, who gives his unvarnished views of the industry.

We wish Mike all the best.

In Boeing News:

Boeing showed us some technological advances in building the 777, another step in the Lean process begun in 2005. King 5 TV has this story: 777 wing painting. The Seattle Times also has a report.

We don’t have much to add to these two reports, so we’ll leave this topic here.

Odds and Ends: 787 service return; LionAir’s A320 order; race to Paris; 777X v A350

787 to fly soon: Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing, says the 787 will be back in service soon. Tests should be completed within days and he is confident in the fix.

LionAir’s A320 order: In case you wondered what LionAir is going to do with all those Airbus A320s now on order, this story tells you. As we suspected, LionAir will follow the AirAsia Group model of setting up airlines throughout Asia. Some will obviously compete with Tony Fernandes’ airline.

The race to Paris: AirInsight won the race by three minutes over Aviation Week. AirInsight posted at 1:24pm EDT and AvWeek at 1:27pm. That might be about the result between Bombardier and Airbus.

777X v A350: Aspire Aviation has an analysis of the forthcoming Boeing 777X and A350-1000 competition.

Odds and Ends: Cathay cancels 8 777Fs, takes up 3 747-8Fs; soft cargo market a concern

Cathay cancels 777F order: Cathay Pacific Airways canceled an order for eight Boeing 777Fs. CX will instead acquire three 747-8Fs, trading in four 747-400Fs to Boeing. The cargo market remains soft and Boeing is struggling to sell 747-8Fs. One person close to the program says Boeing is faced with building several white tails this year and a recent aerial photo of Paine Field at Everett did show at least two 747-8Fs with no airline markings on the flight line.

We’re concerned about the continuing soft cargo market–it’s usually a leading indicator about the direction of the passenger market. Boeing forecasts recovery in 2014 but we’re not so sure.

Speaking of 777s, Air Lease Corp picked up an order for 10 777-300ERs.

787 update: Aviation Week has an updated report on the Boeing plans to begin flight tests for the 787. There seems to be a consensus building that the earliest the aircraft might return to revenue service is late April or in May–the latter a day we forecast earlier.

Odds and Ends: Narrowing the cause on 787s; 30-120 days grounding?

Narrowing the Cause: Aviation Week has a good article with some behind-the-scenes snippets about the grounding of the Boeing 787. Toward the end are comments from Japan Air Lines about narrowing the cause of the battery problems.

The JAL comments support what we heard on Friday: that Boeing and investigators are indeed beginning to focus on what they think may be behind the battery incidents. Things are still too fluid and uncertain to provide details here–we don’t want to head people or media off in the wrong direction, even inadvertently–but we’re cautiously optimistic.

Aviation Week also has this story about failure mode testing and the 787 batteries.

Reuters has this story about the progress being made in the investigation.

What this means for grounding: So the continuing question remains, how long will the 787 be on the ground? Boeing wants to get the airplanes in the air this month. A source, citing conversations he’s had with the FAA, says the federal agency sees the 787 grounded a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 120.

Lithium-ion Batteries OK to Fly: The Detroit News has an interesting story: while the 787 is grounded, lithium-ion batteries are continued to allow to fly in cargo holds.

Air Lease Orders 25 A350s: This is the long-overdue order (it was expected last November). Included are 20 A350-900s and five A350-1000s.

Regional aircraft trending up: Aviation Week reports that regional aircraft sizes are trending up.

CSeries v Airbus, Boeing: Something called the Wiglaf Journal (never heard of it) has an analysis of the Bombardier CSeries vs Airbus and Boeing.

Odds and Ends:Unsurprisingly–More on the Boeing 787

Unsurprisingly: More on the 787

We’re at the Airline Economics conference in Dublin and not surprisingly the Boeing 787 was part of the cocktail party talk Sunday night.

There is a certain level of bewilderment: Why didn’t t fail safe systems prevent overheating and fire of the batteries? The ANA battery apparently was subject to an over-charge while the JAL battery, according to the NTSB, was not. This adds to the mystery and leads to the Big Question, how long will the 787 be grounded?

The answer, of course, is  not known because the cause of the two incidents is  not know and therefore  neither is the fix. But the general feeling is the 787 will be grounded between two and six weeks.

We shall see.

Meanwhile….

The Seattle Times has this story in which some top industry people suggest Boeing execs are in denial over the 787. These people are unidentified, while another–Gordon Bethune–thinks the FAA overreacted by grounding the airplane.

Aviation Week has this story discussing the nuances of the FAA review of the 787 design, production and certification process.

Aviation Week also has this story about the focus of the investigation on the lithium ion battery.

The Wall Street Journal has this story reporting that the JAL 787 battery did not exceed its design capacity. Subscription required.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Congress apparently is ready to have hearings on the Boeing 787. This is premature, and really not necessary in any case.

The forum PPrune, which is pretty well regarded for its high-brow, technical discussions, has a whole host of commentary on the 787 issues. Particularly useful are illustrations and discussion of the battery charging system. The link is here.

Odds and Ends: Picking up an A380; testing the 787; VLA backlogs

Picking up an A380: No, it’s not about lifting one. It’s taking delivery of one. CNN International Travel has this story about the delivery process. It’s not what you’d think would be your usual story from a travel section.

Testing the 787: Since we started off with delivery of an Airbus, let’s continue with testing about the 787 with this piece from All Things 787.

A380, 747-8 backlogs soften: Well, Aviation Week says they are under siege. We wouldn’t quite go that far, but the article is more balancedthan the headline.

A320 GTF testing begins: Aviation Week has this story.

A350 first flight ‘not easy’: Fox News has this story in which Airbus acknowledges the first flight of the A350 by mid-2013 won’t be easy. Airbus is trying very hard, though: there’s a lot of pressure to have the airplane at the Paris Air Show.

A320neo vs 737 MAX: This story has a good summary of the battle between the two giant OEMs.

Odds and Ends: Boeing’s next twin-aisle strategy; Lion Air/Airbus: you read it here first

Boeing’s next twin-aisle strategy: Aspire Aviation has this long article looking at when Boeing will launch the 787-10 and 777X.

Our thoughts on the topic: We are hearing EIS for the 787-10, as Aspire reports, will be 2018 or beyond and that EIS for the 777X will likely be 2020 or beyond. As always, the situation is fluid and things could change. Aspire’s projection of a formal 787-10 launch in June is timed, probably not so coincidentally, for the Paris Air Show. (Unlike the boring Farnborough Air Show, Paris already is shaping up as a prospectively exciting show. Bombardier announced first flight of the CSeries is now expected in June [before, during or after the Show?] and Airbus would like to fly the A350 before the show–something that will likely be a challenge.)

We know Boeing continues to wait as long as it can in hopes Airbus will commit to a final design of the A350-1000 before launching the 777X, but time may be running out unless Boeing is willing to extend the gap between EIS of the -1000 and EIS of the 777X.

A 2018 or later EIS of the 787-10 means Boeing will avoid the EIS of two airplanes (the MAX and the -10) simultaneously, which could be a lesson-learned from the 787/747-8 programs. Readers may recall that Jim Albaugh, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said Boeing would avoid this in the future after experiencing the problems of the two programs.

Perhaps, and this is speculation, extending the time between EIS of the 787-10 and the 777X is partly driven by the same concern.

Given program history, at least some Wall Street analysts we’ve talked with are already raising the prospect that the 737 MAX EIS (4Q2017) might slip. Why? They are concerned about the broadening design creep as well as development of the CFM LEAP-1B. Can they point to anything concrete? Not yet. Chalk the conversation up to Boeing’s poor performance on the 787 and 747-8 programs and the fact that there are still industrial issues with the 787 suppliers, according to the chatter.

You read it here first: Aviation Week reports Lion Air is considering Airbus A320s to supplement its Boeing 737 fleet. We reported this on September 24.