Odds and Ends: Russian MC-21 subsidy; C919 assessment; ExIm countdown

Two news items popped up today on emerging aircraft.

MC-21 subsidy: Government subsidies for commercial aircraft development have been a sore point between the US and Europe (i.e., Boeing and Airbus) for decades. Although the US and Europe went through years of international disputes at the World Trade Organization on behalf of Boeing and Airbus, with adverse decisions now under appeal by both sides, and even though Canada and Brazil previously won cases over illegal subsidies to Embraer and Bombardier, nothing has come of the decisions–and nothing has been done about government subsidies by Japan and China to their aerospace industries. No complaints to the WTO have been filed against either country, which are members of the WTO.

This article updates some information about Russian aid to Irkut, which is developing a competitor to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. The MC-21 and China’s COMAC C919 are directly sized against the best-selling single-aisle airplanes. Russia is not a member of the WTO, so there is no legal basis (that we know of) to file a complaint.

Long-time readers know we disdain the entire WTO process anyway as more political than practical. The WTO has no enforcement powers and sanctions that might be authorized by the WTO against offenders don’t have to be implemented (as in the case of Canada and Brazil) or even applied against the offender’s products–another industry altogether may be sanctioned, a silly and unfair prospect.

C919 assessment: This article provides an assessment of the prospects for the COMAC C919. What’s especially interesting in this article is what we aviation geeks have known all along, and that is China uses Western technology to develop its airplanes (and trains, the article points out). Airbus and Boeing identify China as the next viable competitor in the airliner field, albeit perhaps a generation in the future. But the technology is coming from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Bombardier, the engine makers and the supply chain. They are creating their own future competitors.

While China’s industrial espionage contributes to its understanding and acquisition of Western technology, most of it comes from joint ventures between Chinese companies and the Western OEMs and suppliers.

ExIm countdown: The authorization for the US Export-Import Bank expires next month, and Boeing is pulling out all stops to get a recalcitrant Republican Party to agree to extend the life of the bank, reports The Hill, one of the specialty publications that covers the US Congress.

Killing ExIm will put Boeing at a disadvantage to Airbus, which uses and will continue to use European Credit Agencies (ECAs) to support sales of its aircraft. Boeing will have to fall back on its internal Boeing Capital Corp. or attempt to help customers find private financing if ExIm tanks.

After-market support becoming key to winning engine orders

Maintenance and power-by-the-hour parts and support contracts are increasingly becoming the deciding factor in deciding which engines and which airplanes will be ordered—it’s no longer a matter of engine price or even operating costs, customers of Airbus and Boeing tell us.

Ten years ago, 30% of engine selection had power-by-the-hour (PBH) contracts attached to them. Today, 70% are connected, says one lessor that has Airbus and Boeing aircraft in its portfolio, and which has ordered new aircraft from each company.

“We’ve seen a huge move in maintenance contracts,” this lessor says.

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Odds and Ends: Airbus regional A330, IAG orders and Bombardier reviewing options

Airbus A330 regional might get sales after all, Airbus is negotiating a large order with China against local off-sets (assembly or final configuration, the experts are divided) according to Wall Street Journal. We reference Ben Sandilands writeup of the story to avoid the WSJ paywall. As we were told at Farnborough by Airbus the A330 regional is a de-papered A330ceo with an adapted interior. It does not make sense to wait for a neo variant for this aircraft as the fuel costs are a less important factor on sub 5 hour missions. It will be interesting to see if some other market will pick up on this 200 tonne aircraft, to some extent it is back to the roots for the A330-300, it started off as a medium haul complement to the long haul A340-200 and -300 at 206t maximum take-off weight.

IAG has given Airbus a cheer up signal after the bad news around SkyMark. In their second quarter report call IAG CEO Willie Walsh declare their A380 as “fantastic aircraft when you can fill it”, they see 98% load factors on their most popular routes (e.g. LHR-LAX). IAG also announced better results in their Spanish daughter Iberia, consequently it is allowed to order 8 A330-200 (ceos as the neo comes to late) and convert 8 of IAGs A350-900 options to firm orders for their airline.  Right now IAG is satisfied with the 12 A380 they have on order for BA according to Walsh.

Bombardier is re-examining its options for the recently created Aerospace divisions according to FlightGlobal; they want to leverage the Aerostructures divisions capabilities more when Boeing and Airbus looks for further partners for their booming supply chains. They also need to guard their bets on Russia as partner to drive sales of Q400 and Cseries, given the mounting political problems between Russia and the west. This results in renewed activity in the China / Comac discussions, initially for cooperation on the after sales side in addition to the present fuselage deliveries, but come a worsened situation with Russia such talks could find new depth we think.

Odds and Ends: GAO report on ‘Boeing’s bank;’ C919; Airbus widebody strategy

GAO report on ‘Boeing’s bank:’ The US Government Accounting Office, a non-partisan investigating agency, completed a study of the funding and guarantees provided by the US ExIm Bank, which is under criticism from Congressional Republicans, and concluded non-US airlines do benefit from what amounts to subsidies.

These put US competitors at a disadvantage, GAO concludes. The full 29 page PDF may be found here.

The study period covered the global financial crisis, during which a good deal of private capital funding dried up. Airbus and Boeing each relied more heavily on export credit agencies for customer financing–ExIm in Boeing’s case and collectively European Credit Agencies, or ECAs, for Airbus.

The GAO found that ExIm funded or guaranteed financing for 789 Boeing wide body aircraft while the ECAs supported 821 Airbus wide-bodies.

Parenthetically, this statistic alone should demonstrate to Congress the need for ExIm to continue to be available for Boeing airplanes.

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Farnborough Air Show preview

The Farnborough Air Show is just around the corner, and we don’t expect the event to be especially newsworthy.

Here are our expectations for the show:

Airbus
Market expectations are that Airbus will launch the A330neo at the air show, and we know John Leahy, COO of Customers, would like to do so at this event. His bosses, Fabrice Bregier and Tom Enders, have been less than encouraging that this announcement could come at the show.

Although news stories last week indicated Airbus’ board may green light the program in advance of the FAS, it was nonetheless reported that a formal public launch may not be made at the show. So what might happen? An “Authority to Offer,” or ATO, might be how Airbus proceeds. We don’t think there will be firm orders ready to go when the FAS begins July 14—although certainly Airbus could also take Boeing’s 777X approach and announce “commitments” as was done at the Dubai Air Show.

We are skeptical whether there might be any A330 Classic orders announced, as customers await the neo. We certainly expect the usual orders for the A320 Family. We expect A350 orders. We’re doubtful of A380 orders.

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The case for an NSA in 2025 — successor to 737-8 MAX — (continued)

 Editor’s Note: Given the amount of interest in the prospect of replacements for the single-aisle airplanes, including the Boeing 757, our Guest Columnist provided a follow-up think piece.

By James Krebs

With the reengined Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320 neo families selling like gangbusters, it may seem premature, before one even flies, to be considering a New Small Airplane (NSA) successor to enter service beginning in 2025. But I’m convinced the NSA will come before conventional wisdom expects. The marketplace will demand them.

A combination of market forces could make a compelling case for a NSA in service in 2025.

-   Continuing high fuel prices

-   Increasing urgency to reduce aviation carbon emissions

-   Availability of technology for 20% fuel savings vs 737-8 max and A320 neo (at same seat number) at acceptable risk

-   Traffic growth calling for more seats for 2025 and beyond.

-   Growing pressure from the airlines later in this decade for cleaner, more economical short haul NSA’s

-   Huge global market potential for NSA families — with their performance improved through the years

-   A short haul market share by 2017-18 (neo’s and MAX in service) very disappointing to Boeing.

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Odds and Ends: LEAP vs GTF; CSeries flight testing; MRJ FAL

LEAP vs GTF: Reuters has a story looking at the intense competition between CFM and Pratt & Whitney for the market dominance of the LEAP vs Geared Turbo Fan engines.

The only airplane where there is competition is on the Airbus A320neo family; CFM is exclusive on the Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC C919 and PW is exclusive on the Bombardier CSeries, Embraer E-Jet E2 and Mitsubishi MRJ. PW shares the platform of the Irkut MC-21 with a Russian engine. PW says it has sold more than 5,000 GTFs across the platforms. CFM has sold more than 6,000 across the three models it powers.

On the A320neo family, the competition is 50-50 at this point, with a large number of customers yet to decide on an engine choice. However, 60 A320neos (120 engines) ordered by lessor GECAS never were in contested (GECAS buys exclusively from CFM) and 80 A319/320neos from Republic Airways Holdings (160 engines) were part of a financial rescue package for then-ailing Frontier Airlines.

PW’s joint venture partner, International Aero Engines, shares the A320ceo family platform with CFM. Late to the market, IAE caught up to CFM in recent years.

On platforms where they compete, the sales figures so far show a neck-and-neck competition between CFM and PW.

Update, 12:30: The link has been fixed. Update, 9:30 am PST: Flight Global has this story reporting that PW plans a Performance Improvement Package on the GTF that will further cut fuel consumption by 3%.

CSeries flight testing: Bombardier’s CSeries flight testing has been slow to this point, but it’s beginning to ramp up. Aviation Week reports that FTV 3 should be in the air by the end of this month and FTV 4 should follow in April. FTV 3 is the avionics airplane and FTV 4 focuses on GTF engine testing.

Mitsubishi MRJ: Aviation Week also reports that the Mitsubishi MRJ airplane #1 is nearing final assembly.

Odds and Ends: CSeries timeline; KC-46A roll-out; China’s new airplane

CSeries timeline: Bombardier last week announced a third delay in the CSeries program, this time for as much as a year.

This probably should have been expected. BBD originally planned a five year period between program launch and entry-into-service. As we saw with the Boeing 787, launched with a four year timeline, even five years was too ambitious.

CSeries Timelines. Leeham Co Chart

CSeries Timeline. Leeham Co Chart

The EIS period for the 787 turned out to be the standard seven years, almost eight–and even then, the EIS was anything but smooth.

Airbus’ launch-to-EIS for the final A350 version is somewhat more than eight years. Even though BBD is a sub-contractor on the 787 program and said it benefited from lessons learned, it’s clear officials were far too ambitious.

KC-46A roll-out: Boeing’s first tanker for the USAF based on the 767-200ER will roll out this summer. The Everett Herald has this story. The airplane is a somewhat revised 767-200ER called the 767-2C. In addition to upgrades with the airframe, the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines will have upgrades which improve fuel consumption.

China’s new airplane: China isn’t just developing the ARJ21, C919 and some military airplanes. It’s also developing the world’s largest amphibian.

Outsourcing focus of Boeing report, but misses bigger picture; IAM vote aftermath; Boeing’s 2013

A long article (10 pages when printed) discusses the pitfalls Boeing had by outsourcing so much work on the 787. This much is not new. The point the article raises–transferring technology and the potential decline of US aerospace dominance–isn’t especially new, either; we’ve written about this in the past.

What the article, however, overlooks is that Boeing isn’t alone in doing this. To certain degrees, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer also are guilty–as are a number of other OEMs and suppliers. CFM International, for example entered into a joint venture with the Chinese that would help them develop an modern commercial jet engine. Fortunately, CFM pulled back on this over concerns of technology transfer.

Airbus has an A320 assembly line in Tianjin, China, and Embraer had an ERJ-145 assembly line in the PRC. McDonnell Douglas had an MD-80/MD-90 line in Shanghai.

Bombardier contracts with Chinese companies to produce the Q400 and CSeries fuselages, the latter with the advanced aluminum-lithium metals.

The airframe OEMs will tell you that final assembly represents a small portion of the airplane and the risk of technology transfer is minimal. But it’s probably no coincidence that the COMAC/AVIC ARJ21 looks the the MD-80 (but sized like the DC-9-10) or that the C919 looks an awfully lot like the A320.

The article points out that Mitsubishi, which builds the wings for the Boeing 787, is now using this experience to design and build the MRJ-90. True enough, though it should be noted that having experience the composite wing issues associated with the 787, Mitsubishi abandoned plans for a composite wing for the MRJ and is proceeding with metal instead.

Suppliers are basically extorted by China: if you want to sell us your goods, you have to be prepared to transfer technology. Suppliers can’t ignore this huge market, but try to mitigate the blackmail by transferring “yesterday’s” technology or at least developing tomorrow’s technology today while transferring today’s technology to China.

It doesn’t stop with China, of course. Boeing and Airbus have Russian ties with engineers. Bombardier is planning a Q400 assembly line in Russia. Indian engineers work on Airbus and Boeing airplanes and now plan their own turbo-prop.

The days of the Big Two Duopoly are numbered. And it’s not just Boeing that is guilty of aiding and abetting the new competition.

Boeing’s Good Year in 2013

Set aside the disruptive and embarrassing ground of the 787 in January through April, Boeing had a very good year in 2013. It posted a record rate of deliveries, besting Airbus for the second year in a row. It’s order book was the best since 9/11. Here is the press release.

Airbus announces its 2013 production and delivery results on January 13.

Boeing-IAM vote: After-thoughts

We can’t go by this week without a short commentary on the Boeing-IAM vote on Friday, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this—we’ve analyzed this issue a number of times and there is little more to say except this:

It was a very tough vote for the union members of IAM 751. Giving up benefits won in previous hard-fought battles is always tough. But the Boeing 777X will be assembled in Washington State, and the composite wings will be built in Washington, too. Our view is that having 80% of something (benefits) is better than 100% of nothing (the 777X).

Boeing, of course, will return to the State and the union for more tax breaks and concessions when the 757 and 737 replacements are designed and a decision is needed about where to build these airplanes. Boeing is now in a position to seem more concessions from labor during a contract that’s in place to September 2024, and the union can’t strike. It’s been significantly weakened, losing leverage ion addition to benefits as a result of Friday’s contract vote.

But this enables Boeing to tell customers the threat of delivery disruptions from strikes is gone, and this will reassure them, which may or may not help sales—thus providing more work for IAM members.

Boeing faces a huge morale problem for the members who feel they’ve been had in this process. IAM members have long, long memories. Although there is no option to strike, members can “work to the rules” or find other ways to decrease productivity. Boeing has some real fence-mending to do. We’ll see whether it makes any effort to do so.

Labor isn’t content with the narrow yes vote, however. Some are calling for a third vote, arguing the January 3 election date was set to deliberately disenfranchise a large number of union members who likely would have voted No. Turnout last week was lower than the November 13 vote because many members were still on vacation from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The deeper, longer term implications of IAM’s Boeing contract vote January 3

There are deeper, longer term implications for the January 3 vote by IAM 751 members on the revised contract proposal from Boeing than have been discussed in the public domain.

  • Contract extension to 2024 brings “labor peace,” but also significantly weakens the union in the future.
  • The replacement for the Boeing 757 lurks in the background.
  • So does the replacement for the 737 MAX.

The near-term implications have been discussed ad nausea: for employees, vote for a contract that includes concessions, notably on pensions, or risk losing the assembly site for the 777X. For the states, Washington could be a winner, or a big loser. The state that’s awarded the assembly site would be a big winner. Suppliers will supply Boeing regardless of where the 777X is assembled.

Another near-term implication we’ve talked about: the fall-out on the IAM, both at the International level and the District 751 level. No matter how the vote turns out, there is a civil war within 751 members who are royally upset with their leadership and others who believe in it. The civil war between 751 and IAM International HQ will continue well beyond the vote, with the prospect that International could simply depose all the 751 leaders and place 751 under a trustee “for the good of the union.”

But there are much longer term implications of the vote.

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