Odds and Ends: Composites in future airplanes; Boeing and Hillary Clinton; 757 MAX; AA swaps A321neo orders; Delta RFP

Composites in future airplanes: Composites World has a post about the use of composites in the future, with a good graphic detailing the increasing use of this material in airliners.

Boeing and Hillary Clinton: The Washington Post has a long story about the relationship between Boeing and Hillary Clinton, while she was US Secretary of State. While the story raises some interesting issues with respect to the prospective presidential candidate in 2016, the points focusing on her advocating for Boeing aircraft purchases doesn’t bother us a bit: that’s what politicians do on behalf of Airbus. As far as we’re concerned, our government should be supporting our industries, too.

757 MAX: The Motley Fool raises the prospect of a Boeing “757 MAX,” which is a restart of the 757 line but with a composite wing and new engines–something along the lines of the 777X in concept.  We’ve been hearing rumblings about this, too.

American swaps A321neo orders: American Airlines swapped 30 A321neo firm orders into options, leaving 100 firm orders for this sub-type left. The deliveries were for 2021/22. American told us it retained this flexibility in the original contract and the new management elected to do so in order “to maintain flexibility.”

Delta’s RFP: Airchive has a good analysis of the Delta Air Lines Request for Proposals to replace its wide-body fleet. We were especially interested in the cost analysis of the 787 vs the A330, which is close to our own numbers (there was no collaboration between Airchive and Leeham).

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.

Odds and Ends: MH370, Day 5; Delta’s RFP

MH370, Day 5: Yesterday brought another round of frenzied media coverage when the Chinese government released satellite images of what might be pieces of the Malaysian 777 in the water, 140 miles west of the last known contact position of flight MH370.

These images were identified as being up to 72 feet long and 52 feet wide. The images were taken Sunday, after the Friday night/Saturday morning disappearance.

We’re skeptical that these things are part of the airplane. They are huge to be floating on the water. Most likely something this big would have sunk.

Further, we simply cannot get past the fact that no debris field of any kind has been seen anywhere along the intended flight path or within broad proximity. Seat cushions, aircraft insulation, light-weight parts, papers, and even bodies should have been found in broad proximity to the “crash” site–and these haven’t been.

Certainly this would be a breakthrough if these objects turn out to be part of the plane, for you then could mathematically take into account the currents and winds and backtrack to the point of origin. But we aren’t going to count on it.

And in a dramatic development, The Wall Street Journal reports that signals from the plane’s engines indicate the flight flew on for four hours after the transponder stopped sending signals. This theory has been denied by Malaysia.

Delta’s RFP: Aviation Week has a short story that’s filled with news about the Delta Air Lines request for proposals to replace its Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 767-300ER fleets. The story also contains some information about the need for a plane the size of the Bombardier CSeries. Delta wants the Airbus A330neo, the A330 Classic, the A350 or the Boeing 787 (it has left-over, deferred orders from Northwest Airlines on the latter), and it needs a plane with around 5,000nm-6,000nm range (which fits the A330-300/300neo). It also says the Boeing 737-700 isn’t economical and the 737-800 is too big. While not naming the A319 and A320, the Boeing equivalents, we believe the same is true for these aircraft. This suggests the CSeries. Delta also likes the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan.

New American Airlines now a reality; big challenges ahead

December 6 passed without fanfare, but the New American Airlines is a reality.

The first day of stock trading, under the symbol AAL, begins today. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram–the hometown paper of the Ft. Worth-based AA–has this story, posted Saturday. The New York Times provides this analytical piece.

We know the US Airways management team reasonably well and we think they will be much better than the former American management. American hasn’t been the same since Bob Crandall retired in 1998. Crandall’s successor, Don Carty, had a lousy tenure. He originated the acquisition of Reno Air, a small airline headquartered in Reno (NV), for reasons that passed all understanding. In doing so, he created ill will with the AA pilots union (which, in fairness, wasn’t hard to do with this bunch of malcontents), creating all sorts of labor issues. Carty also acquired Trans World Airlines, another merger of mysterious motives that appeared more to do with market share than business sense. TWA’s only US hub by this time was St. Louis (MO), a mere 250 miles from AA’s massive Chicago O’Hare hub. TWA’s fare structure was low, competing as it was with fellow-hubber Southwest Airlines and able to attract traffic on price rather than quality.

We’ll never know whether the TWA merger would have been a success. The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened shortly after the acquisition, and by 2003, American was on the ropes. Carty negotiated steep concessions from the employee unions, but the deal unraveled when it was revealed that management simultaneously lined up for tens of millions of dollars in executive bonuses. Carty was forced out in the quid pro quo to complete the concession deal.

Carty’s successor, Gerard Arpey, gained respect from the employees. Over the next few years, more concessions were sought by Arpey as he strove to keep American from following all its peers into bankruptcy. But those bankruptcies allowed all the competitors to shave pension plans, cut wages and benefits and other costs while American remained burdened with higher costs across the board. In November 2011–10 years after 9/11–American finally succumbed and filed for Chapter 11. Arpey, who disagreed with the decision, resigned and was succeeded by Tom Horton.

We were never impressed with Horton, particularly with his view that he deserved $20m in the bankruptcy restructuring. He’s non-executive chairman of American but will leave the company soon. He provided this farewell message to employees.

Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways and America West Airlines, who engineered the merger, is the new CEO of American. Parker and his team never got the respect we think they deserved for keeping US Airways alive, profitable and competitive with perhaps the weakest route system of the US legacy airlines.

Parker was an early proponent of adopting ancillary fees, a practice passengers really don’t like. But the industry had changed dramatically and free meals, free checked baggage and other stuff of history became just that for all the airlines: history. Today, most carriers make their profits from fees and not the tickets they sell.

Parker will have challenges to bring American back into the forefront of top tier airlines. Its reputation and employee morale have been battered. US Airways continues to rank near the bottom of passenger surveys. Employee group integration at US Airways from the merger with America West continues to be difficult; now add American to the mix.

AA and US will continue to fly under separate banners and certificates for some time, following the examples of United-Continental and Delta-Northwest. Integration of reservations systems, frequent flier programs and so on will undoubtedly present huge challenges. We fully anticipate passenger disruptions, also following the pattern of the other mega-mergers.

One of the things we expect to see is an employee contest for a new livery to replace the one adopted by Tom Horton. The tail logo is just awful, though the fuselage and stylized eagle are fine. When America West and US Airways merger, Parker held an employee contest and the winner is what’s painted on the US Airways planes today. It was a good was to involve employees. Then legacy paint jobs of the predecessor airlines were added to the fleet. We have no doubt this will happen at the New American. There are plenty of aviation geek ideas for an American livery. Some may be found here. From this link, you can click through to various other sites for some pretty creative ideas. We like several of the renderings at this website. The last two are what Horton should have adopted.

Odds and Ends: Alaska strikes back; boost for Q400; Airbus CEO speaks; Groveling

Alaska strikes back: Alaska Airlines has finally struck back at Delta Air Lines, which has been announcing loads of new service into Alaska’s Seattle hub. Alaska announced this morning:

Alaska Airlines will begin daily nonstop service between Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, Calif., starting June 9, and will add a third nonstop flight to its existing service between Salt Lake City and Seattle. Sale fares on the new flights will be available for booking Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Salt Lake City is a major Delta hub.

Boost for Q400: Bombardier inked a Letter of Intent for 30 firm orders for the Q400 turbo-props with Nantong Tongzhou Bay Aviation Industry Co., Ltd. Nantong plans to launch commercial airline service in China through a new carrier called Sutong Airlines.

Airbus CEO speaks: Arabian Business has a long interview with Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier. Once you get past the fluff, there is some interesting information.

Groveling: This story via ABC has nothing new but we love the headline. Add Georgia to the list of grovelers.

This article discusses the prospects of Huntsville (AL) in the competition for Boeing’s 777X assembly site.

The IAM 837 union head at Boeing’s plant in St. Louis has reversed course (and declared a news blackout). More goofiness from the International Association of Machinists.

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: Lessor announced for CSeries; Aircraft gap; Delta vs Alaska

Chinese Lessor for CSeries: Bombardier today announced the identity of a previously undisclosed customer for the CSeries, and it is important for two reasons: one, it’s a lessor, and two, it’s from China.

CDB Leasing Co. signed a conditional order for five CS100s and 10 CS300s, with 15 options, in 2012. The press release infers this is now a purchase order, but the wording is somewhat ambiguous:

Bombardier Aerospace announced today that CDB Leasing Co., Ltd. (CLC), one of China’s top leasing companies, is the previously announced undisclosed customer that signed a conditional purchase agreement for five CS100 and 10 CS300 jetliners. The purchase agreement also includes options on an additional five CS100 and 10 CS300 aircraft, for a total of up to 30 CSeries aircraft. This agreement was initially announced as a conditional order from an undisclosed customer for five CS100 and 10 CS300 jetliners on July 8, 2012.

BBD’s Mike Arcamone’s interview with the Globe and Mail suggests this is now a firm purchase contract. We received word from BBD that this remains a conditional order. The “conditional” part remains undisclosed.

CLC is the second lessor, after LCI, to order the CSeries. The fact that this order is from China is also important. BBD has a significant presence in China for production of Q400 fuselage segments and part of the CSeries fuselage is to be produced in China, though start-up has been difficult and the first fuselage sections were back-stopped and produced at BBD’s Belfast plant. The absence of a Chinese customer raised a number of questions with some observers, which are now answered to some degree, who will nonetheless seek additional Chinese orders (as well as more orders overall) now that the first flight has taken place.

Separately, this story in the Montreal Gazette provides the most comprehensive look at the CSeries test program since first flight September 16. BBD hasn’t said much about the testing since first flight, and the plane has only flown twice more.

Aircraft gap: This fits right in with our Boeing 757 replacement post this week–the creation of the Airbus A330 Lite still leaves a gap in OEM product lines, Aviation Week writes.

Delta vs Alaska: The schedule ramp-up by Delta Air Lines into Seattle, in competition with its marketing partner Alaska Airlines, continues to draw attention with the media.

Ted Reed of TheStreet.com has a thorough look at the competition.

CrankyFlier (we love this name) has a different take, which provides some valuable insight into the burgeoning competition.

Odds and Ends: ANA to be battle royale; Boeing’s top salesman; Delta and the A380

All Nippon Airways Wide-Body Battle: Having lost a bombshell order to Airbus at Japan Airlines, the focus in Japan now turns to ANA, reports Reuters. Will Boeing shift work from Japan? Reuters has this story.

Boeing’s Top Salesman: Jon Ostrower has a very interesting and candid story about Boeing’s top airplane salesman, John Wojick, and the 787 program. Via Google News in a new Wall Street Journal format, it looks like it’s not behind the paywall.

Delta and the A380: Delta Air Lines flies the Boeing 747-400 but it doesn’t look like it will fly the Airbus A380. See this story by Motley Fool.

American, US Airways respond to DOJ complaint

American Airlines and US Airways filed their responses to the DOJ lawsuit seeking to block the merger. The Dallas Morning News has this synopsis. The full, 50-page US Airways response is here.

There’s one element that particularly caught our eye, and that is market share. While DOJ points out that the New American, along with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, would control some 80% of the available seat miles (a statistically correct figure), AA and US point out that in terms of domestic market share, Southwest Airlines, other LCCs plus Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines control 40% of all domestic passengers.

The Complaint’s focus on legacy airlines causes it to ignore the most meaningful competitive development in the airline industry since deregulation: the emergence of low cost carriers. Southwest, which in 1978 was an oddity limited to intrastate flying in Texas, is now the country’s largest domestic airline, carrying more passengers last year than any legacy carrier and more than US Airways and American combined. Other low cost carriers, including JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Allegiant, are expanding at dramatic rates. These carriers, together with Southwest and regional competitors Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, now transport over 40% of all domestic passengers, and that share continues to grow. The demonstrable success of low cost carriers is a market driven response to consumer demand, but the Complaint inexplicably ignores their profound and permanent effect on industry competition.

In fact, Southwest has for many years carried more domestic passengers than any other airline–which begs the question, why didn’t DOJ block the Southwest-AirTran merger, which would only increase and consolidate this concentration?

The court should find for AA and US. This lawsuit is an embarrassment to DOJ for its political motivations, poor research and lack of understanding of the airline industry.

Odds and Ends: 787 fulfilling dream; Weather worsens for CSeries; Painting out logos; plane vs car

787 Opens New Routes: The Boeing 787 is still getting some negative headlines about dispatch reliability, but the plane is proving Boeing’s underlying message about opening new, “thin” routes. The Tacoma News-Tribune has this story detailing how the 787 is fulfilling the dream (so-to-speak).

CSeries First Flight: The weather forecast in Montreal deteriorated further overnight. Now rain is predicted through Saturday, making first flight unlikely until at least Sunday.

Guess Whose Airplane? You’d never know from the titles and logo painted out, would you?

NBC News Photo

CNN has this story on the matter. This is the first accident in 12 years, according to Wikipedia when a crew member was killed in a fire that destroyed a Boeing 737 on the ground. The last accident involving passengers was in 1998, according to Wiki.

Speaking of Accidents: Here’s an unusual one: A Delta Air Lines commuter plane struck a car parked on the tarmac while the plane was being towed.

ClickonDetroit photo.

Let’s see the owner of the car explain this one to his insurance company.