The struggling Boeing 747-8

News reports that Boeing is promoting the 747-8I to Emirates Airlines prompted some to leap to conclusions that the struggling program is about to get a sorely needed shot in the arm. We don’t think so.

For one thing, Emirates president Tim Clark immediately poured cold water on the idea. In the process, in the same report, he said the 747-8 can’t match the Airbus A380 economics.

For another thing, we believe Emirates is trending toward a two-aircraft type fleet for which there is no room for a third–whether it is the Airbus A350 or the 747-8I. It’s clear the Emirates business model is built around the A380 and the Boeing 777-300ER/777X.

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Analyzing the Emirates order cancellations

The cancelled order for 70 Airbus A350s before the company’s annual Innovation Days was a surprise and an embarrassment that took the edge off what was intended to be a two day promotion of Airbus programs.

The cancellation by Emirates Airlines was certainly not good news. But it probably should not have been a total surprise. That it was had more to do with people not paying attention. Emirates had been signaling for some time it had issues with the program ever since Airbus rejigged the A350-1000 a few years ago, without consulting Emirates in the process.

Headlines were bad and while most analysts were measured and reporting balanced, there were a few exceptions of hand-wringing disaster for breathless stories.

Airbus tried to downplay the cancellation, without much success. But an objective analysis suggests Airbus and the rationale analysts are correct: while a blow, it’s hardly a program-defining moment, any more than the Bombardier CSeries-Pratt & Whitney engine failure last month was a defining moment in that program.

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Emirates cancels A350 order, could be boost for slow-selling 777 Classic

Airbus announced Wednesday morning French time that Emirates Airlines canceled its firm order for 70 A350 XWBs.

In a statement, Airbus said:

Airbus confirms that Emirates Airline has decided to cancel its order of 70 A350 XWB aircraft. The decision follows on-going discussions with the airline in light of their fleet requirement review, as demonstrated by their order of 50 additional A380 at the last Dubai Airshow and their continuous interest in the program

Airbus and Emirates Airline benefit from a long-standing relationship and the airline recently reiterated its confidence in Airbus products particularly by praising the A380 and the benefits the aircraft brings to their operations.

The order of 50 A350-900 and 20 A350-1000 was originally placed by Emirates Airline in 2007 with first delivery slots scheduled from 2019.

This cancellation could open a hole in Emirates’ fleet plan. The so-called middle market for wide body twins is the heart of the market. This cancellation could open an opportunity for Boeing to step in with the slow-selling 777-300ER, which has a major production gap beginning in 2017. Rather than introduce a new fleet type, Emirates could opt to stay with the 777-300ER for commonality, or perhaps its huge order for 150 Boeing 777-8/9s may supply fleet needs.

Airbus has more than 800 orders, options and LOIs for the A350 even after cancellation.

Logical conclusions: Airbus wide-body decisions

A330 programme. The long range programme presents no new challenges. However, managing the order book beyond 2016 becomes more challenging due to competition from A350 XWB and Boeing 787.

—From the Airbus Group 2013 Annual Report

We have written previously that Airbus faced a production gap, a major drop in backlog orders from 2016, with no orders at all from 2020 (excluding the 27 orders placed in March by China, for which we don’t currently have delivery data yet).  Back on December 29, we noted that the prospect of the A330neo was gaining traction–and it’s even more so today.

Market Intelligence from multiple sources indicate that Airbus will announce at the Farnborough Air Show that it will proceed with re-engining the A330 into a new engine option configuration, including sharklets similar to that on the A320 family.

This will give a needed boost to the A330 line. There have been a dearth of orders, in part, no doubt, to the industry waiting to see whether Airbus will proceed with the A330neo. Recall that there had been a drop in A320 family orders in the run-up to the launch of the A320neo.

We have now completed a comprehensive study about the business case for the A330neo and how competitive it would be vs. the Boeing 787-8 and -9, and what price Airbus has to offer to help make the airplane competitive. This proprietary study is based on our proprietary economic modeling which, along with our own Market analysis, concludes that there is a business case to proceed with the A330neo. We concurrently believe Airbus will discontinue offering the A350-800, although this announcement may not come for some time. Among the reasons: Hawaiian Airlines wants the A350-800 as offering the passenger capacity and the range it desires. The A350-900 is too big, officials currently believe. But an A330-300neo won’t offer the range Hawaiian wants (it will fall about 1,500nm short, according to our estimates). If Airbus discontinues the A350-800, Hawaiian may well re-issue its Request for Proposals that will give Boeing a shot at getting the 787-9 into Hawaiian. Given the planned production boost to the 787 line (12/mo in 2016, 14/m0 in 2018 or 2019), Boeing now has delivery slots to offer to match that of the A350-800 schedule.

But we don’t think Airbus is done once it launches the A330neo. We believe Airbus continues to look at the prospect of re-engining the A380, c.2020, given additional impetus from the large customer for the A380, Tim Clark of Emirates Airlines. This article in The Wall Street Journal is the latest on this topic.

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Filling the production gap for A330 and 777 Classic: huge challenge ahead

Two orders were announced this week for the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-300ER, important for filling the production gaps of each airplane. In the aggregate, the current backlogs go through 2016, though in reality, they stream beyond that date. See our charts below.

Airbus announced an order for 27 A330s from China, but these were the airplanes long frozen in the push-back by China against Europe in the emissions trading scheme objected to by China and a number of other countries. China routinely freezes airplane orders (among other commercial deals) to express its political displeasure.

At current production rates for the A330 or 10/mo, this adds 2.7 months to the Airbus backlog, but offset with deliveries, the aggregate backlog (i.e., if all deliveries were bunched together) means the backlog ends in 2016. With the Chinese order, Airbus announced 31 sales year-to-date.

 

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Odds and Ends: Rolls follows Pratt with GTF technology; Airbus’ challenge;

Rolls-Royce and GTF: Rolls-Royce today said it will pursue technology for its next big engine that follows the Geared Turbo Fan technology of Pratt & Whitney’s smaller design.

Aviation Week has this story and Bloomberg has this one.

RR says the engine will be ready around 2020, which is just about the time Emirates Airlines would like to see an engine that is 10% more efficient than today’s technologies, for the Airbus A380.

Airbus’ challenge: Reuters has a think-piece about the challenge Airbus faces in the heart-of-the-market twin-aisle sector occupied by the A330 and A350. Bloomberg discusses the A350 challenge in its report of Airbus Group earnings.

Odds and Ends: A330neo decision could be near; KC-46A; Countdown to Superbowl; A400M

A330neo decision: Aviation Week reports that a decision to proceed with the Airbus A330neo could be “imminent.” The report also discusses the advocacy by Tim Clark, COO of Emirates Airlines, to re-engine the Airbus A380. As with the Reuters and Bloomberg articles we previously linked, the Aviation Week piece also confirms much of what we were the first news outlet to report in December. We have a launch in 2014 rather than 2015 reported in Aviation Week, although we both have a decision to proceed for this year. Aviation Week and Bloomberg report that the decision could come as early as March.

Aviation Week confirms our report that Pratt & Whitney would be unlikely to bid on the project because the short time lime precludes development of the big engine version of the Geared Turbo Fan.

KC-46A at ‘high risk’ for delay: A US government report suggests the Boeing KC-46A tanker is at ‘high risk’ of a six month delay.

These are not unusual for military programs, nor, it seems, is it any longer unusual for new or derivative aircraft programs. Boeing believes the program is on time, but even if a six or 12 month delay does emerge, by today’s standards, this indeed is “on time.”

Countdown to Super Bowl: Boeing painted a Boeing 747-8F test plane in the Seattle Seahawks livery and this week “skywrote” the number 12 on a flight. The Seahawks play the Denver Broncos Sunday in New Jersey for the Super Bowl. The number “12” represents “the 12th man,” of the collective Seahawks fan base.

We think it would be super for the 747 to overfly the game Sunday, the ultimate 12th man appearance. Alas, Boeing says there are no plans to do so.

A400M: Cool picture. No other words needed.

2013 Year in Review: 787 grounding was the top story

We’re back from what we had planned as a holiday hiatus. This was interrupted by the IAM-Boeing 777X contract issue, of which we felt compelled to initiate some special posts.

This leads off our 2013 Year in Review.

IAM-Boeing 777X Contract

Although it was not voted by Readers as the most important story of 2013, nor did it even make the Top Three, its importance can’t be understated. The relationship between the IAM 751 District, which represents Boeing “touch labor” workers in Puget Sound (and in limited numbers, in Oregon and elsewhere), is to put the best face on it, dysfunctional. Relations hit a lot point in 2008, with a 57 day strike, and 2009, when Boeing elected to put 787 line 2 in Charleston. We thought, as did many others, that 751 and Boeing entered a new era in 2011 when an agreement was reached extending the 2012 contract to 2016 in exchange for locating the 737 MAX construction in Renton. As it turns out, this guarantee had less promise to it than was thought; Boeing is using this assembly as a stick (or a carrot) in the current 777X contract proposal.

If the 777X is not assembled in Washington, this will likely mark the beginning of a serious migration of Boeing from Washington. What’s been happening up to down, with 787 Line 2 and a series of jobs relocations, is peanuts compared with what will happen as airplane programs wind down and Boeing has clean-sheet designs in the next decade.

Failure of 751 and Boeing to come to some accord (not necessarily one based on the January 3 contract vote) has grave implications for IAM jobs and aerospace in Washington.

Top Story of the Year

Readers voted and we agree that the top commercial aviation story of the year was the three month ground of the 787. Except for the Concorde, a special and highly limited case, there hadn’t been a grounding of a commercial jet since 1979 with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. With only 50 787s in service at the time of the grounding, global disruption was limited but the number of 787s scheduled for delivery during this time magnified the global implications. Japan Air Lines and its rival All Nippon Airways, with more 787s in service than any other carrier, were disproportionately affected. The grounding may have helped influence JAL to break the Boeing monopoly and buy Airbus with the A350-900 order.

ANA is still considering a major order and having lost JAL to Airbus, Boeing can be counted on being motivated to cut virtually any deal on any terms and conditions to avoid losing ANA.

A350 and 777X

A mere handful of votes separated the first flight and flight testing of the A350XWB with the launch of the 777X. The A350XWB barely topped the 777X as the second most important story of 2013.

Flight testing by all accounts is going well. Airbus officials are so far sticking with an entry-into-service for next year, but when is a moving target. Officials initially said mid-year, then September then November or December. Based on customer comments, we moved EIS to 1Q2015 in our estimates months ago, perhaps January.

In mid-December, the new American Airlines did what we had expected: it dropped the US Airways order for the A350-800, swapping it into the A350-900. The days of the -800 are numbered, and we think this subtype will follow the 787-3 into oblivion as early as 2014.

Boeing finally launched the 777X in November at the Dubai Air Show. The launch was really anti-climatic: Lufthansa Airlines had already become the first customers in advance of the air show, but Dubai provided the well-expected, high-profile order of 150 from Emirates Airlines and more orders from Qatar Airways and Etihad Airlines. On December 20, Cathay Pacific Airways ordered 21 777-9s, giving Boeing some 280 orders and commitments for the airplane. How many of the commitments will actually be firmed up by the end of 2013 is something we’ll all know in early January.

CSeries First Flight and Flight Testing

Bombardier came in at a distant fourth in the Reader tally with the first flight of the CSeries. This is BBD’s attempt to leap into the Big Leagues, challenging Airbus and Boeing directly at the small end of the mainline jet market. First flight was delayed three times and the flight test program has been slow off the mark. Flight Test Vehicle 2 is behind schedule entering the program and, we believe, so is FTV 3.

Bombardier long said that EIS would be 12 months after first flight. Following the September 16 launch of FTV 1, BBD stuck with this plan publicly. This meant EIS would be September 2014.

Not a chance.

We already had moved EIS to 1Q2015 by the time BBD CEO Pierre Beaudoin told the Toronto Globe and Mail in November that EIS was still a “good year” away.

We now have EIS in 2Q or 3Q2015 in our estimates. BBD’s year-end earnings call is February 11. We expect an EIS update from the company at that time.

Other Stories

All other nominees for 2013’s Top Stories were also-rans to Bombardier. Here are the results at December 29.

Vote for the Top Aviation Stories of 2013

Answer Votes Percent
Airbus A350 XWB has first flight and enters testing 168 20%  
Airbus A380 gets big order boost from Emirates 16 2%  
American Airlines and US Airways merge 39 5%  
Boeing 777X is launched 164 20%  
Boeing 777X Site Selection competition 43 5%  
Boeing 787 is grounded 258 31%  
Boeing 787-10 is launched 11 1%  
Bombardier CSeries has first flight and enters testing 74 9%  
Embraer launches E-Jet E2 3 0%  
IAM 751 rejects 777X Contract Nov. 13 33 4%  
IAM International Forces Vote on Second 777X contract offer 24 3%   

Does 777X assembly site matter to airlines? Yes, up to a point; and a retrospective to 2009

As Boeing awaits responses to its Requests for Proposals from 15 sites around the US and possibly Japan, Washington State officials, company employees and other stakeholders fret that Boeing will choose someplace other than Everett (WA).

Everett has all the logical advantages: the 777 Classic is assembled here. There are vast, mature facilities here. There is an experienced workforce here. As we note in our previous post today, there are a lot of points to ponder when it comes to choosing a site.

But what about the airlines? Do they care where the airplane is assembled?

This isn’t entirely clear. Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways said at the Dubai Air Show they want the airplane built at one location, in the US, not outsourced to a bunch of countries and industrial partners in the fashion of the Boeing 787–an industrial model that proved disastrous for Boeing and the customers.

But do they care whether the 777X is built at Everett, Boeing South Carolina or some other site? Emirates and Qatar didn’t say, at least publicly. Etihad Airlines, another launch customer for the 777X, hasn’t said anything publicly. The first customer for the X told us that what’s important to it is an accessible location for inspections–in other words, a location with good air service, which could be one-stop connecting service.

This would rule in any of the cities that have been mentioned publicly in Boeing’s RFP search. It would rule out a city like Moses Lake (WA), which has ambitions of becoming an aerospace cluster but which has no airline service. The closest major airport is Spokane (WA), a 90 minute drive. Sea-Tac International Airport is a three hour drive. Lufthansa seems unconcerned whether Everett or another site is the choice.

Lufthansa is also not a 787 customer, but officials are well aware of the issues and delays involved in the program. It seriously considered ordering the 787-10 but for route system operational requirements chose instead the Airbus A350-900. But for some 787 customers, assembly location does matter. We understand from our sources that some customers want their Dreamliners assembled in Everett, not Boeing South Carolina, where by most accounts slow production rates and quality control issues remain a challenge.

Retrospective to 2009

As we sort through the events surrounding the IAM 751, Boeing and the 777X, we went back and re-read some of the coverage from 2009 when Boeing put 787 Line 2 in Charleston. There are some similarities–notably Sen. Patty Murray’s involvement then and now–and a lot of differences. Here are links to our posts; be sure to click through to the links of newspaper coverage contained within our posts. Reading the stories linked have amazing relevance to recent events.

Boeing talks a sham: This story, in The Everett Herald, paints a much different picture than:

How South Carolina won the deal. Also: The click-through to The Everett Herald story from this link has a familiar ring to our “loyalty” post of November 21.

Back to today:

Stan Sorscher of SPEEA, the Boeing engineers’ union, has a guest column in The Huffington Post, taking Boeing to task (not a particular surprise) over the current site search and efforts to cut benefits with the IAM 751 “because they can.”

Danny Westneat, a columnist for The Seattle Times, wrote Sunday that perhaps Washington State should look beyond Boeing for aerospace. This isn’t new. We advocated this in October 2009 (just days before Boeing announced it would put the 787 Line 2 assembly in Charleston) at the Governor’s Aerospace Summit conference in Spokane (WA). Be sure to click on the link to the PPT presentation, too.

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%.