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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Odds and Ends: A350 EIS; A330neo; more on 757RS

A350 EIS: Bloomberg reports that the first Airbus A350 XWB could be delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways “before the December deadline.” According to the Ascend data base, the first delivery had been planned for July and then slipped to September and then October. Airbus later said November or December. Based on this movement and market intelligence, we had slipped EIS to early 2015. In the end, we’ll see where the date lands.

A330neo: Aspire Aviation reports that Hawaiian Airlines could be an early customer for the A330neo. The prospect makes sense: HA is a hold-out for converting its A350-800 order to the larger A350-900, preferring the capacity of the smaller airplane.

757 Replacement: News out of the Singapore Air Show about the prospect of a 757 replacement continues to pick up steam. This story in the Puget Sound Business Journal is as complete as any (besides which, it also quotes us and our stories).

Competing in Asia: CNN has a profile of the competition between Airbus and Boeing in Asia for the low cost carriers.

CFM LEAP accelerating in test program; Airbus and the A350-800

Aviation Week has a long, detailed story about the test program for the CFM LEAP engine, which is accelerating rapidly.

In its 737 MAX program update yesterday, Boeing said the LEAP-1B has begun testing and it will benefit from the testing already underway for the LEAP-1A, the version that is designed for the Airbus A320neo family. The LEAP-1C for the COMAC C919 is on its original schedule for certification in 2015, despite the fact the C919 has slipped to at least 2017, reports AvWeek.

The 737 MAX is exclusively powered by the LEAP, as is the C919. The former has more than 1,600 firm orders and the latter just hit its 400th order/commitment. CFM faces competition on the A320neo family from Pratt & Whitney’s P1000G Geared Turbo Fan, where PW holds a 49% market share against CFM, which previously held a larger, more dominate position in the A320ceo competition. A large number of orders don’t yet have an engine selection.

PW is the sole-source engine provider for the Bombardier CSeries, the Mitsubishi MRJ and the Embraer E-Jet E2. PW splits the engine choice on the Irkut MC-21 (soon to be renamed the YAK 242) with a Russian engine.

Just as Boeing’s LEAP-1B will benefit from the experience of the LEAP-1A now in testing for Airbus, Airbus will benefit from the testing and experience of PW’s testing of the GTF on the Bombardier CSeries.

Aviation Week also has a story about the Airbus A350-800 with the blunt headline, The airplane Airbus doesn’t want to build. This refers to the A350-800. AvWeek muses that the outcome of the merger between US Airways, now the largest customer for the airplane, and American Airlines, may be the deciding factor for the airplane. We agree. With American’s large order for the Boeing 787-9, the A350-800 would be unnecessary.

That would then leave Hawaiian Airlines as a key decision-maker. We hear in the market that Hawaiian is just sitting back and waiting to see what kind of incentives Airbus will offer to entice a switch to the larger A350-900.

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: Hawaiian commits to A321neo; Emirates A380; JAL 787

Hawaiian commits to A321neo: Hawaiian Airlines has committed to the Airbus A321neo, contingent on new employees contracts setting rates for staffing the aircraft. The A321neos will be used on Hawaii-mainland services. This validates Airbus’ design of the 321neo to give it better range than the 321ceo for just such service. Bloomberg has this story. Since this order is contingent, we wonder if it will be included in the final Airbus tally for orders, to be announced January 17.

Emirates could use 30 more A380s: It’s not especially new news but here’s a story about Emirates Airlines saying it could use 30 more A380s. Airbus’ John Leahy said there was a significant order for A380s pending. We wonder if this is it, to be announced January 17.

Japan Air Lines 787: A JAL 787 parked at Boston Logan Airport has an smoke/fire related incident today. The plane had completed a flight from Tokyo and had disembarked all passengers. Here is a detailed story.