Rolls-Royce plans for new single-aisle, twin-aisle airplane engines

Rolls-Royce may not be at a cross road but it’s certainly at a fork in the road.

RR sought to be a dual-source supplier for the Boeing 777X, competing with GE Aviation for the privilege; it was generally a given that GE would be a provider. The question was whether it would be the sole supplier or share the platform with another. Pratt & Whitney withdrew, concluding the business case wasn’t there for its proposed big Geared Turbo Fan. RR stayed in the competition, assured by Boeing that it wasn’t a stalking horse to GE.

But GE won the position as exclusive supplier, much to RR’s consternation.

Next, the future of the Airbus A350-800, powered exclusively by RR, is in serious doubt. The backlog is now down to a mere 46 as customer after customer, encouraged by Airbus, up-gauged to the A350-900 and -1000 sub-types. While RR is also the exclusive supplier on each of these models, and the engines are largely common, there has been substantial investment by Rolls on the -800’s application. If the -800 is canceled (as many industry observers believe it will be), RR’s investment is largely down the drain. How does Airbus “make good” to RR for this?

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Updating the A380: the prospect of a neo version and what’s involved

Recent headlines and this column report that Airbus is considering re-engining the popular A330 with GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN power plants. A New Engine Option and other changes would improve the A330’s economy by an estimated 10% percent after offsets for increased drag and weight.

But the A330 isn’t the only Airbus airplane being considered for new engines made popular by the A320neo family. Tim Clark, president and chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, urged Airbus to improve efficiency of the giant A380 with engine technology found in newer generation aircraft.

How feasible is an A380neo? What are the technological issues? Would there be enough of an economic gain? And is there a market for an A380neo?

The A380 of today

The A380 has been hailed as a highly efficient airliner since it went into service 2008, assuming the giant plane can be filled. But only six years later, the first voices have been raised that this will not continue to be the case should the continuous improvements that have been flowing into the airframe not pick up speed.

The launch of the Boeing 777X also brought focus on the state of the A380 come the latter part of this decade when the 777-9X enters flight testing in advance of its planned 2020 entry-into-service. Tim Clark expressed  that “it is time that the A380 gets an injection of the new technology which is now becoming available for the A320/737 in the form of GTF/LEAP and GE9X for the 777X. “

Before we look into what can be done short-to–mid-term to inject improved efficiency, let’s establish the baseline as it exists today. The A380 is considered by some the most efficient way of flying passengers between two long haul points if there is enough of demand. The competition today is the Boeing 777-300ER and 747-8i.  (Qantas Airways is dropping some A380 flights that have 50% load factors, demonstrating the aircraft is inefficient if the demand is insufficient.)

Let’s assume we want to transport passengers between San Francisco and Hong Kong, one of the longer flights which are made non-stop in both directions. Going West, it takes a Cathay 777-300ER 15 hours and going East, 12 hours, the difference being due to prevailing headwinds going West. For our check, we will use the more demanding of these legs, which then works out as the equivalent of flying 7,200nm. To compare the three different aircraft in a fair way, we need to load them to the same payload, in our case passengers with luggage. We will not consider cargo in this initial analysis. The leg chosen is not one which allows much weight for cargo, but cargo certainly belongs to a complete analysis of an airplane and we will point out where it will affect any conclusions.  

When comparing the standard three-class seating numbers between the OEMs, it is clear these are not made to the same standards of comfort. Airbus has admitted that the A380 is too lightly loaded at 525 passengers. The 777-300ER at nine abreast and 365 seats is equipped with a comfortable 18’’ economy class at 32’’ pitch but the business class is modeled with a non-standard 48’’ pitch. The 747-8i at 467 seats is not laid out to any comfort standards comparable to the other two. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison we have equipped all aircraft with the same three-class cabin with a standard seating consisting of first class at 81’’ pitch, business class at 60’’ pitch and economy class with 32’’ pitch. Seat widths are 37’’, 22’’ and 18’ respectively and the ratios of the different premium seatings vs. economy are kept the same. Here the aircraft are listed with the in-service year and with their respective payload capabilities:

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Looking ahead to 2014

Here’s what to look for in 2014 in commercial aviation.

Airbus

A350 XWB: The high-profile A350 XWB program continues flight testing this year. Entry-into-service has been a sliding target. The program is running about 18 months behind original plan and EIS was intended for mid-year following initial delays. Even this has slipped, first to September and then to “the fourth quarter.” Currently first delivery is scheduled in October to launch customer Qatar Airways, which is slated to get four A350-900s this year. Emirates Airlines is listed as getting two of the total of six scheduled for delivery.

A320neo: Lost in the shadow of the A350 program is the A320neo. Final assembly of the first aircraft is to begin in the spring and first flight, followed by testing, is scheduled for this fall. The Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan is the initial variant. First delivery is scheduled in the fall of 2015.

Others: Airbus continues to evaluate whether to proceed with developing an A330neo. Based on our Market Intelligence, we expect a decision to proceed will come this year. Concurrently with this, we expect most if not all of the remaining 61 orders for the A350-800 to be upgraded to the A350-900 and the -800 program to be officially rescheduled if not dropped. The -800 is currently supposed to enter service in 2016, followed by the A350-1000 in 2017. But recall that as delays mounted on the A350-900, Airbus shifted engineers to the -900 and the -1000 at the expense of the -800. Salesmen have consistently shifted orders from the -800 to the larger models. We long ago anticipated the -800’s EIS would be rescheduled to 2018, following the -1000. The -800’s economics aren’t compelling enough just justify the expensive list price. So we expect Airbus to upgrade the A330 to a new engine option, using either or both of the Trent 1000 TEN and GEnx with PIPs (Performance Improvement Packages) or with some modifications. EIS would be about 2018. This precludes Pratt & Whitney from offering a large version of the Geared Turbo Fan, which wouldn’t be ready by then.

We also expect Airbus and the engine makers to look at re-engining the A380, driven by desires of Emirates Airlines to see a 10% economic improvement. Emirates announced an order for 50 A380s at the Dubai Air Show but instead of ordering the incumbent engine from Engine Alliance for these, Emirates left the engine choice open. This leaves open the possibility the A330neo and the “A380RE” could share an engine choice.

Boeing

After many years of turmoil, 2014 should be quiet for Boeing (now that the IAM issues have been resolved—see below).

787: Barring any untoward and unexpected issues, Boeing seems at long last to be on an upward trajectory with this program—but we’ve said this before. There are still nagging dispatch and fleet reliability issues on the 787-8 fleet to resolve, but flight testing of the 787-9 appears to be going well. Certification and first delivery should come without trouble this year, to launch customer Air New Zealand.

737: Nothing to report on the Next Generation program except ramp-up to a production rate of 42/mo is to take effect this year. Development continues on the 737 MAX.

Others: The 777 Classic is humming along. Now that the 777X is launched, we’ll be closely watching sales for the Classic; Boeing has a three year backlog but six years to 777X’s EIS. How is Boeing going to fill this gap, and what kind of price cuts will be offered to do so?

The 747-8 continues to struggle, barely holding on. Boeing says it thinks the cargo market will recover this year, boosting sales of the 747-8F. We’re dubious.

The 767 commercial program continues to wind down. The 767-based KC-46A program ramps up.

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A330neo prospect gains traction

Note: The following was distributed to our e-mail list December 23. Last week, American Airlines (as predicted) swapped the A350-800s for A350-900s.

The possibility of Airbus launching an A330 new engine option appears to be gaining ground.

Our Market Intelligence tells us that Airbus is considering a decision soon, probably next year, with a target entry-into-service date of 2018.

A decision to proceed with an A330neo would come after one to drop the A350-800, according to our information. Airbus has systematically switched -800 customers to the larger, and more profitable A350-900 and A350-1000. There are now just 79 A350-800s in backlog.

Customer

Qty

Comments

Aeroflot

8

 

Aircraft Purchase Fleet

12

For Alitalia

Asiana

8

 

AWAS

2

Probably will swap to A359

Hawaiian Airlines

6

Waiting on US Airways

ILFC

6

Probably will swap to A359

Kingfisher

5

Good as gone

Libyan

4

 

US Airways

18

Expected to disappear now that AA merger completed, replaced with A359/A351

Yemenia

10

 

Source: Airbus, Nov. 2013

79

 Leeham Co Chart

We identify 37, or 47%, that probably are already at risk of cancellation in favor of the larger A350-900 or A350-1000. These 37 are highlighted in red and pink. Another 10, those for Yemenia, are probably already iffy, according to Market Intelligence. The total of 47 represents 59% of the backlog. We have no information on the remaining customers’ intentions.

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Airbus’ A350-800 dilemma

Last week we discussed Airbus’ A350-1000 dilemma. The -1000 will be a fine airplane, but we concluded the company needs to go forward with a larger capacity “A350-1100″ to match the size of the Boeing 777-9X, but take the Boeing 787-10 approach and be content with sacrificing range in lieu of designing a new wing and engines.

Airbus’ A350 dilemma doesn’t end there. What’s it to do with the A350-800? One fleet planner told us a year or more ago that the “-800 is an expensive A330-300″ with the same operating costs as the larger capacity A350-900.

Airbus has been encouraging customers to move up to the larger A350-900, with Hawaiian Airlines and US Airways the key hold outs. Conventional wisdom says US Airways will swap its order once the merger with American Airlines goes through (which is looking more and more likely, given settlement talks with the Department of Justice). American has a large order for the Boeing 787-9, making the -800 unnecessary in a combined carrier fleet plan.

There are now around 80 -800s in Airbus’ backlog, and even officials at Airbus have been ambiguous about green-lighting production of the -800, which is supposed to enter service in 2016 (after the -900 but before the -1000). We have written several posts in which we concluded the -800 would be re-sequenced to 2018, after the 2017 EIS of the -1000.

We believe there is a very good chance the A350-800 will be dropped in favor of proceeding with an A350-1100.

So what’s Airbus to do in the 250-300 seat space now occupied by the -800 and the aging A330 family?

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Odds and Ends: Airbus optimistic on A380 sales; second A350 joins test fleet; CSeries factory progress

A380 Sales: Orders for the Airbus A380 have been dismal, but Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus parent EADS, sees a turn-around in sales. With the forthcoming Boeing 777-9X, which at 400 seats is considerably smaller than the 525-seat A380, Airbus sees the need to undertake Performance Improvement Packages (PIPs) to improve the economics of the A380. Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airlines and the largest customer by for the A380, has publicly said he wants to see the A380′s engine makers (Engine Alliance in his case) incorporate newer technology from the GEnx and the 777X’s GE9X and Pratt & Whitney’s GTF into the GP7200. The GP7200 is a JV of GE and Pratt & Whitney.

Airbus is also offering an 11-abreast coach seating in the A380, which would add 40 more seats and lower the cost per available seat mile (CASM) accordingly.

The A380 has proved more economical than Airbus expected, but needs a large load factor of at least 75% (393 passengers at the 525 seat configuration) to be profitably, Enders said. In today’s environment, this is achievable but it also demonstrates the risk inherent to Very Large Aircraft (VLA). According to our airline sourcing that has analyzed the airplanes, smaller aircraft, such as the 777X, Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 787-10 have similar seat mile economics but lower plane-mile costs without the capacity risk. One airline tells us that “if you can fill the A380 and 747-8,” the airplanes have their place. The four-engine VLAs also are better in the hot-and-hgih environment for engine-out and field performance. But clearly these high capacity and hot-and-high markets are limited.

Enders also commented on the progress of the A350 flight test program. This story has detail.

A350 Flight Testing: The second Airbus A350 flight test vehicle has joined the test program.

CSeries Factory: Airchive has a long look at the program in building the new factory for the Bombardier CSeries.

Odds and Ends: FAA 787 approval could come next week; Ode to an engineer

FAA 787 approval could come next week: Reuters reports that the Federal Aviation Administration could provide a key approval next week that will open the way to the final documentation required to lift the grounding of the Boeing 787. Meantime, and unrelated to the woes of the 787, the FAA has certified the latest performance improvement package for the 787′s GEnx engines.

Ode to a Boeing engineer: Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times has this tribute to a talented Boeing engineer. Then a day later this story of Ken Holtby, another key Boeing engineer, appeared.

Looking ahead to 2013 in Commercial Aviation

Last year yielded a few surprises in an otherwise predictable year.

Jim Albaugh shocked the aviation world when he retired unexpectedly at age 62. He was expected to remain in his position as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes until mandatory retirement at 65.

EADS CEO Tom Enders unleashed a surprise merger proposal with BAE Systems. The deal didn’t work due to German government opposition, but he ultimately accomplished a governance restructuring—a key objective of the merger—that will reduce government meddling in the future.

Those were about it. Boeing’s much-anticipated Authority to Offer the 777X didn’t happen. ATO for the 787-10 was stealthily granted. Airbus and Bombardier, to no surprise, delayed the A350 and CSeries by a few months. Boeing came roaring back to become sales leader for the first time in about a decade, on the strength of 737 MAX sales.

What’s ahead for 2013? Here’s what we see.

Overview

With the spurt of 737 MAX sales over, narrow-body sales competition between Airbus and Boeing should return to normalcy. Will twin-aisle sales become the next growth market because of the first flight of the A350 and the program launch of the 7870-10? Will ATO of the 777X evolve into a program launch as well? Will Bombardier’s first flight of the CSeries and subsequent testing validate its claims for the new technology airplane and finally spur a large number of sales of the “show me” crowd?

Here’s our OEM-by-OEM rundown.

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Odds and Ends: CSeries and London City Airport; new life for BAe-146; SPEEA’s next step

It’s Christmas Eve but there is some news despite this being a slow day.

CSeries and London City Airport: The downtown airport is a highly challenging one. Aircraft have a challenging approach. The runway is short. British Airways operates the Airbus A318 to New York with a refueling stop westbound. Bombardier says its CSeries can do the trip non-stop. This article provides some detail.

New Life for BAe-146: This airplane didn’t have much to recommend it. In its original 3×3 configuration, it was a cramped airplane. It had four engines. The original engines were unreliable. But here’s a new life for them.

SPEEA’s next step: The Boeing engineers’ union takes another step to prepare for a strike, beginning Feb. 1.

Ed Colodny on US Airways mergers: He headed Allegheny Airlines and US Air for years, guiding the carrier through four mergers–including Piedmont Airlines, which critics widely considered that he screwed up, and PSA, which US did screw up. The Street gets his thoughts on the potential American Airlines merger.

GEnx PIPs slip a bit: The Performance Improvement Package program for the GEnx engine that powers the Boeing 787 and 747-8 has slipped a bit, according to this article.

Airbus’ A330 improvements aimed at maintaining market position vs 787

Airbus last week announced additional gross weight upgrades and improvements to the A330-200/300 that increase range and reduce fuel burn. Aviation Week has this story about the enhancements.

This is the latest in a series of improvements taking advantage of the four year delay in the Boeing 787 program that Airbus believes will enable the airplane, which first entered service in 1994, to remain viable well into the 2020 decade.

Boeing launched the 787 in December 2003 and promptly claimed the aircraft would kill the A330. Had the aircraft entered service in May 2008 as originally planned, Boeing might have been able to make strides to do so. But delays allowed Airbus time to incorporate several Performance Improvement Packages (PIPs). The European company has sold more A330s post-787 launch than it did before.

The latest improvements give the A330-300 an anticipated range of more than 6,000nm, compared with less than 4,000nm when the airplane entered service.

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