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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Alaska-Delta Battle in Seattle comes at the expense of United, Southwest

National media and trade magazines are paying attention to the increasing battle between Alaska Air Group (Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines) and Delta Air Lines (including its regional airline partners) in the Battle in Seattle as the latter dramatically increases its presence here, but the focus appears to be on the wrong parties.

While the headlines and stories point to the “Delta challenge” to Alaska, a review of the traffic statistics and market share data provided to us by Sea-Tac Airport yesterday show that Alaska and its regional sibling, Horizon Air, and Delta with its regional partners are growing at the expense of United Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

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Odds and Ends: Airbus’ Enders; A320neo; Ex-Im Bank; Delta vs Alaska

Airbus’ Enders: Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders muses about what he will do when his current term ends in two years. He might seek another three year term as CEO or he could move on. In the Byzantine structure at Airbus, the CEO’s job rotates between a German and Frenchman with the opposite nationality heading Airbus (the airplanes) during the term. Enders has made great progress in bringing Airbus Group into the real corporate world and away from the government meddling that has proved the bane of the company’s existence. He still has things to accomplish, including a more traditional executive office structure regardless of nationalities and term limits.

Smooth A320neo introduction: Meantime, Enders says it’s imperative that the introduction next year of the A320neo go smoothly and that A350 program still has “challenges.” The A350 is supposed to enter service by the end of this year.

Ex-Im Bank: The Seattle Times editorialized that the Ex-Im Bank authorization should be renewed by Congress, and as readers know, we agree. Boeing will be put at a disadvantage to Airbus because the European Union Export Credit Agencies will continue to provide ECA financing for Airbus. Write your Congressman. Ex-Im is more than just Boeing, too.

Delta vs Alaska: The air wars continue between giant Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines, the smallest of the US legacy carriers. Delta announced it is adding more service to Seattle, Alaska’s largest hub, on routes that compete with Alaska. The latter announced it will increase service by 11% in Seattle, mostly (but not entirely) to cities that don’t directly compete with Delta.

Odds and Ends: Quote of the Day; A380 vs 777X; 757NG; CSeries

Quote of the Day: We have our favorite in this story. We presume our Readers won’t have any trouble figuring this out. And the prospect of announcing the Airbus A330neo at the ILA Berlin Air Show is clearly off the table.

A380 vs 777X: Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said the A380 will have to be updated in order to be able to compete with the Boeing 777X, confirming our analysis in February that the 777X will give the giant aircraft a run for its economic money.

Boeing 757NG: Delta Air Lines’ CEO Richard Anderson thinks Boeing should make a 757NG. Failure to do so could open the door for Bombardier and Embraer to move up into this space, he says. Interesting idea from Seeking Alpha, with an annoying requirement for free registration to complete reading the article.

CSeries: From the sidelines at Pratt & Whitney: FTV 4 said to be airborne; BBD won’t send a CSeries to the Farnborough Air Show.

Airbus, Boeing face pricing pressure

Airbus and Boeing face pricing squeezes that are the result of their continuing price wars and two products that need price cuts to maintain sales.

The fierce single-aisle battle between Airbus and Boeing, and to a much lesser extent, between Airbus and Bombardier, puts pricing pressure on the A320ceo and to some degree the A320neo.

Airbus and Boeing each blame the other for a price war that has put pressure on margins for the in-production airplanes, but market share battles are only part of the issue. There is the need to keep the production lines humming for these airplanes in advance of the transition to the re-engined A320neo and 737 MAX, particularly as the Big Two up production rates over the next few years.

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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.