Farnborough Air Show, July 15: WA State and Mitsubishi; PW GTF issue revealed, finally;

The news that Mitsubishi will stage flight testing for its new MRJ 90-seat jet program at Moses Lake (WA) is, parochially, good news. And it is exactly the type of non-industrial aerospace business that we’ve been advocating for Washington since our consulting days to the State Department of Commerce in 2010, and during our tenure as a member of the Board of Directors for the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) for three years (2010-2013).

Washington, understandably, has been married to, and focused on, industrial aerospace. Boeing is here, of course. The supply based the supports Boeing has a huge footprint in Washington. But industrial business is highly capital-intensive, and winning this business is highly competitive.

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Odds and Ends: No 90-seat ATR for now; 777X work; JAL says A350 was ‘better;’

No 90-seat ATR: Aviation Week reports that for now Airbus Group, which owns 50% of ATR, won’t green-light a 90-seat ATR turbo-prop due to the adverse impact a development program would have on profits.

Competing for 777X work: Electroimpact is based near Paine Field in Washington and it supplies Boeing and Airbus. It’s interested in participating in the Boeing 777X work. The Everett Herald has this story focusing on the company. Meanwhile, Reuters has this story about the pressures the Airbus and Boeing supply chains are under to cut costs.

JAL: A350 was ‘better:’ Japan Air Lines says its choice of the Airbus A350 was made because the airplane was just “better” than Boeing’s offering. CNBC reports.

No highway in the sky: Just on the ground. See this series of photos to see what we’re talking about.

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%   

Odds and Ends: ANA, Airbus and Boeing; Era of the jumbo jet; Repo wars

ANA to stay with Boeing? After losing Japan Airlines to Airbus, analysts are split over whether ANA will also defect. Some say JAL’s order will give ANA cover to defect. Others say JAL’s order will increase the pressure on ANA to stay with Boeing. The Seattle Times this story. Our take: compare this with what happened following American Airlines’ order with Airbus. The Delta Air Lines competition was next, and Boeing was determined not to lose that competition–and it didn’t. Market talk says Boeing’s price to Delta was 10%-15% below Airbus’ offer, though this has never been confirmed. We understand there were other considerations besides costs. Regardless, both sides are going to go all-out to win.

SuperJumbo Era: The Financial Times has a story about whether the era of the super-jumbo (the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8) is over (free registration required). Bloomberg has a story about the Boeing 777X being a jumbo killer.

Repo Wars: Here’s an departure from our usual coverage–tactics used to repossess an airplane from a delinquent airline. A decade ago, we were involved in a similar situation, planning the repossession of a Boeing 767-300ER from a South American airline. The lessor obtained a court order while we did some behind-the-scenes plotting to “arrest” the airplane at Miami. It was at the gate, full of passengers when the sheriff served the pilot with the court papers. Secrecy was imperative, as the story linked above references. Once the airplane was seized, the airline rescheduled a second 767 to stay on domestic service so the lessor couldn’t seize that airplane, too.

Latest twin-aisle orders shift market share; Plus Odds and Ends

The flurry of orders in September and this month from Lufthansa Airlines and Japan Air Lines tightens the wide body race between Airbus and Boeing.

Airbus and JAL on Monday announced a firm order for 31 A350s and options for 25 more. Last month, Lufthansa announced a firm order for 34 777-9Xs and 25 A350-900s.

Twin Aisle Market Share 093013Sources: Airbus and Boeing

Airbus traditionally has significantly trailed Boeing in the twin-aisle sector, but so far this year the race is running about even through September. The Lufthansa orders for the Boeing 777-9X and the Airbus A350-900, announced in September, are not reflected yet, nor is the Japan Air Lines order for A350-900s and -1000s. None of these orders has been booked yet by either OEM. Airbus would take the lead.

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Latest on Ethiopian 787

The media frenzy over the cause of the fire of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 last Friday seems to be slowing.

The New York Times has this report from late last night that says Japan Air Lines and ANA conducted checks on their Boeing 787 fleet and found everything OK.

The NYT also has some new detail about what’s near the burned out area of the 787 and what’s not, and what else investigators are checking (some of which was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal).

Bloomberg has this report saying it doesn’t appear grounding the airplane is in the cards–and we believe it should not be. The first two battery incidents justified grounding but we don’t have the same concerns with this fire as we did with the JAL fire and the ANA near-fire.

Nothing we’ve yet read nor heard suggests anything systemic about the airplane that contributed to the fire. We still have to wait and see what investigators come up with.

Unlike the Asiana Airlines crash the previous week, there are no flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders or witnesses to provide a near-instant conclusion. This investigation is a detective story that will take some time to reach answers.

As we know from the JAL fire, evidence is often destroyed in a fire and news reports indicate the Electronic Locator Transmitter was pretty well destroyed. The underlying question is whether the ELT was the origin of the fire or merely a victim itself that propagated the fire with its lithium battery. What other factors contributor to the fire?

It’s time to move on and let investigators do their work.

Update: via Twitter: 9m

WSJ BREAKING: AAIB to issue interim 787 report in dys. Unclear if ELT started fire. May suggest ELT removal from 787s during probe –Source

Ethiopian 787 fire: the day after

Update, 12n PDT: The British Air Accident Investigation Board has issued its first press release. No apparent connection to the APU or batteries, but otherwise a standard we’re-working-on-it statement.

Unrelated to Ethiopian: Fascinating animations of the Asiana Flt 214 crash.

Original Post:

The origin of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 fire remains unclear the day after the event.

The New York Times has a recap that’s the best we found early Saturday.

As could be expected, we received a lot of media calls asking about the impact to the 787, to Boeing and some even about aviation safety in general.

We urged media to be cautious about drawing conclusions, other than from the photos it certainly doesn’t appear to have any connection to the previous battery fires because of the location of the fire burn-through on the Ethiopian airplane. The batteries are located far away from the burn area.

The possibility of the fire originating in the aft crew rest area was debunked when The Wall Street Journal reported Ethiopian didn’t configure its 787s with a crew rest area in this location.

Other areas quickly circulating: the aft galley, the air conditioning unit (the Financial Times reported a problem with this aircraft’s AC unit, complete with sparks, had been observed eight hours previously), a general electrical system fault, human error of some kind, and more.

It’s all speculation at this stage. And none of it leads anywhere.

Boeing stock was off $8 in the immediate wake of the news and closed down $5. In after-hours trading it was up 3 cents. Wall Street clearly feared another battery fire at first. But as the day went on and initial facts became clear, analysts seemed unfazed.

We urge media to proceed cautiously in its reporting.

This will clearly be a test for Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services unit, known as CAS. We reported for CNN how CAS prepared to fan out to install the batter fix and to repair the fire-damaged JAL 787. This fire damage is far worse, and it puts to the test not only CAS’s ability to repair this airplane but the entire Boeing claim that a composite fuselage can be repaired from major damage.

Being first is sometimes a bitch.

Boeing has paid dearly for being first with the innovations associated with the 787, both in design and in production. The entire industry will learn these lessons, and Airbus with the A350 isn’t far behind with its composite airplane. Although Airbus has taken a more conservative approach with the A350 in a number of areas, one has to wonder what unknown unknowns will lurk over this airplane.

Some people, including us, have been mildly critical of Boeing for not proceeding with new, composite airplanes to replace the 737 and the 777. Boeing says it wants to “harvest” the technologies of the 787 before taking the next step of all-new airplanes. Perhaps harvesting lessons learned is equally important.

Did Boeing try to do too much too soon with the 787? Perhaps. But this latest incident may be little more than some human-induced fire or something originating with a vendor-supplier component that has nothing to do with the design or the systems of the 787.

Still, it’s Boeing’s name on the side of the airplane and undoubtedly some segment of the flying public will see the headlines and avoid the airplane. The public relations damage is real and, having been in the communications business, we feel for Boeing’s Corp Com department.

Odds and Ends: Boeing earnings call; US Airways Media; 787 update Day

There’s a lot of news happening today and tomorrow.

NTSB Hearing: The NTSB hearing on the Japan Air Lines Boeing 787 battery fire is today and tomorrow. This can be followed live (and later archived) here.

Boeing Earnings Call: This is Wednesday, April 24. This can be followed here. Expect a fair amount of discussion about the impact of the 787 battery issues on earnings. Ordinarily we’d have our usual live running coverage but instead we will be at the…

US Airways Media Day: This airline has an annual media day and it was scheduled for today a long time ago. We’ve been a regular at this, and due to the pending American Airlines merger, apparently there is going to be big press demand: they had to move the venue from headquarters to a hotel location in Scottsdale. We’ll have several updates throughout the day.

787 Update: LOT Polish Airlines expects to return its two 787s to service in June; Ethiopian this month; the Japanese airlines could return the airplane to service this month but ANA plans up to 200 test flights first, so this will slip to May and perhaps June. It’s unclear when Japan Air Lines plans a return-to-service (RTS). Qatar Airways wants to RTS this month. United Air Lines appears planning next month.

Odds and Ends: Boeing’s presence in Seattle; 747-8 future; Japan awaits 787 NTSB hearings; Airport delays

Boeing’s presence in Seattle: Bill Virgin, a respected local journalist and observer of aerospace and manufacturing, wrote this column for the Tacoma News-Tribune looking at Boeing’s future presence in the Seattle area.

The points Virgin raise are valid, and in total have been discussed for years here. We raised some of these points as far back as April 2009 in a speech to a local economic development group.

Parochially, of course, we want to see Boeing stay here. Putting on our business hat, we can make a solid argument for Boeing’s diversification. We see Charleston becoming to Everett what Hamburg is to Toulouse: a major, major manufacturing center and aerospace cluster.

We are firmly convinced that when the day comes Boeing designs an all-new airplane to replace the 737, South Carolina will be its assembly home and Renton’s facility will close, to be given over to mixed use development along the lines of what’s called Renton Landing. Boeing’s “move to the lake” has been years in the planning and years in the making. We don’t believe it is over.

What about Everett? We see the future of Everett solid for at least a generation and probably a lot longer, at least until the 787 production begins to wind down. Local politicians fear Boeing will assemble the forthcoming 777X somewhere else. We don’t think so. The 777 tooling is here, the skilled workforce is here and it wouldn’t make sense to build a derivative elsewhere, just as it didn’t make sense to build the 737 MAX anywhere but Renton. Furthermore, we firmly believe the 777X will kill off the nearly morbid 747-8I. This will free up space to build the 777X here.

747-8 Future: The Puget Sound Business Journal last week published a long story about the inter-relationship between the 777X and the 747-8I, an its impact on the struggling program. On the same day the story was published (Friday), Boeing announced a production rate cut in the program from 2/mo to 1.75/mo. We had expected a deeper cut. One consultant we spoke with on Friday suggests Boeing will do what it can to keep the 747-8 alive pending recapitalization of the 747 at the USAF–in other words for Air Force One and the Doomsday aircraft. We’ve been saying the former for quite a while but had not thought about the latter. But there are only four aircraft. Still, the prestige of having the 747 as Air Force One is worth a lot.

The PSBJ article is here: PSBJ 747 041913

Japan Awaits Hearings: Japanese regulators are waiting for the Boeing 787/Japan Air Lines hearings by the National Transportation Safety Board this week before deciding whether to approve a return-to-service by the aircraft, according to this news report.

Airport Delays: You can track airport delays resulting from controller layoffs here.