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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Odds and Ends: MC-21 to be renamed; Boeing buys land; seat wars ahead?

MC-21 to be renamed: After creating a brand for the Russian Irkut MC-21, authorities have decided to rename the airplane the Yak 242, according to this article in Flight International.

The article is too brief to explain the reasons behind this, other than to indicate the MC-21 evolved out of a design that was designated Yak-242. The MC-21 is somewhat larger than the 242 and it is a direct challenger to Airbus and Boeing in the 150-210 seat sector.

Among our activities, we engage in branding. We don’t think this is a particularly smart move on Russia’s part. Returning to the Yak name is a throwback to the old Soviet Union and the history of Soviet airliners that left a lot to be desired. The “Irkut MC-21″ name creates some distance to this history in the effort to sell the airplane outside the old Soviet political sphere.

The Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100, which has had some success selling beyond the sphere, nonetheless reinforces the history of troubled Soviet airliners. Production has been painfully slow and in-service reliability difficult.

We think the Irkut name should be retained, a move toward the future, not one toward the past.

Boeing buys more Charleston land: The US government shutdown delayed the land purchased by Boeing of federally property around the Charleston (SC) airport. Now that the government is open again, the purchase has moved forward, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. According to reports, Boeing now owns or has under contract slightly more land at Charleston than it owns at Everett.

Boeing has been shifting work from Washington to Charleston, and the trend toward purchasing land means this will continue. We continue to believe that when clean-sheet airplanes come out of the Boeing shop to replace the 737 and 777, production of these will be at Charleston. Hopefully the demand for the 737 replacement will be high enough that production will be split between Washington and Charleston. We can foresee a scenario where Boeing has a more equal split between the two locations, such as Airbus has with Hamburg and Toulouse.

But the immediate question is whether the 777X derivative will be built in Washington or Charleston. We’ve heard both scenarios but don’t have enough information to know which is correct.

Seats Wars pending? Airbus has called for an industry standard for 18-inch wide seats in coach. Plane Talking has an analysis of this. We’ll point out that Embraer already has 18-inch seats as standard in its E-Jets and Bombardier has 18-inch window-and-aisle seats plus a 19-inch middle seat for its CSeries. This makes the E-Jet and the CSeries the most comfortable domestic airplanes available, with the middle-seat bonus for the CSeries.

We haven’t flown coach internationally for years, but we do so domestically and have been crabbing about the 17 inch seat on the Boeing 737 for a long time. With the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 nine-abreast essentially the same width, we believe airlines and their drive toward cramming as many seats in as possible to the total disregard of passenger comfort certainly merits international standards at 18 inches.

But we’re not deceived that this proposal is altruistic on the part of Airbus. Boeing’s ability to accommodate one more row of seats with a slightly wider standard than Airbus, reducing CASM in the process, is clearly the motive. When Boeing compares today’s 777 against the A350 in sales campaigns, it uses 10 abreast in coach vs nine abreast for the A350 and argues superior CASM costs. Customers tell us this indeed reduces the CASM advantage the A350 has at an apples-to-apples 9 v 9 (the A350 continues to maintain a trip cost advantage).

We agree with Airbus on the principal. But far chance it will happen.

Production wars coming: Airbus v Boeing

If some industry observers are concerned about the prospect of over-production now, the current state of affairs may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bergier says he expects to boost production of the A320 and A350 families over the next few years, overtaking Boeing by 2018.

Airbus currently produces the A320 at a rate of 42 per month. The A330 rate is 10/mo and the A380 at 3/mo. Production of the first customer-destined A350 is to begin by the end of this year, with a targeted delivery in the second half of next year. Ramp-up to an initial production target of 10/mo is planned over a four year period, but the wing factory in Broughton, Wales, has a capacity for 13/mo, inferring a greater rate is already planned. Airbus is considering a second A350 production line, largely focused on the A350-1000.

Boeing currently produces the 737 at 38/mo, going to 42/mo next year. The 777 rate is 8.3/mo and the 747-8F/I rate is 1.75/mo. The 767, driven by the USAF tanker, is 1.5/mo. The 787 is ramping up to 10.mo, with a target by year end, but we believe this will be more likely in Q12014.

Boeing has notified the supply chain to consider higher rates for the 737, 767 and 787. We posted the chart below last June, reflecting the higher planning rates.

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Irkut makes 10% fuel advantage claim over NEO, MAX for MC-21

Russia’s Irkurt claims its MC-21 mainline jet, a direct competitor to the Airbus A320/321neo and Boeing 737-8/9 MAX, will be some 10% more economical. Irkut claims the MC-21 will be up to 23% more efficient than the current engine-powered Airbus and Boeing products.

Thanks to a reader who is at the MAKS air show, we received this photo from a slide presentation. Although others may have seen this information before, this is the first time we have.

MS21_FuelBurn

Other MAKS news:

  • Sukhoi inked orders for some more Superjet 100s.
  • Still no announcements from Airbus, Boeing or Embraer.
  • Ilyushin Finance Corp and Bombardier announced that the first Russian operator of the CSeries CS300 will Vim Airlines. IFC ordered 32 with 10 more options at the Paris Air Show.

In other news, Boeing and Canada’s WestJet announced a letter of intent for 65 737 MAXes: 25 MAX 7s and 40 MAX 8s. This will enable WestJet to expand and replace its 737 NG fleet. Delivery begins in September 2017, making WestJet one of the first operators.

Odds and Ends: SuperJet 100; cell phones on airplanes; 787 real-time monitoring; Crikey

SuperJet 100: This airplane, which is basically the old Dornier 728 jet design, was supposed to be Russia’s leap to western standards. It hasn’t worked out that way, according to this article.

Cell Phones on Airplanes: There continues a debate over whether cell phones really have to be turned off for take-off and landing. This finally explains the technical issues of the cell phone and other electronic devices.

787 Real Time Monitoring: NPR (the national public radio in the US) has this report about Boeing’s real-time monitoring of the worldwide 787 operations.

Crikey: The ever-direct (and cranky) Ben Sandilands weighs in on the Airbus-Boeing advertising tiff.

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: E-190 v Superjet v BBD in Russia; China’s aviation; WestJet’s speed dating; Crandall speaks

E-190 v Superjet v Bombardier: With the finding that the pilot of the demo flight of the Sukhoi SSJ 100 Superjet simply flew into a mountain in Indonesia, rather than there being a problem with the airplane, the cloud has been lifted from the aircraft. So the direct match-up of the SSJ vs the Embraer E-190 can now be compared and this article does so. Bombardier’s CRJ-900 and CRJ-1000 also compete.

China’s Aviation: Airbus and Boeing think China pose the greatest threat in the future, but this analyst is less enthusiastic.

WestJet of Canada: The low cost carrier took a bold step to order up to 45 Bombardier Q400s to feed itself. Now it’s using speed dating to decide where to fly the airplanes.

Crandall speaks on AA-US merger: Former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall weighs in on the merger between American Airlines and US Airways.

Odds and Ends: Why aircraft are late; catching up to Boeing

Why Aircraft Are Late: Boeing 747-8, 787, Airbus A380, A400M, A350, Mitsubishi MRJ, Comac ARJ-21, Sukhoi Superjet and probably Comac C919, Bombardier CSeries and Irkut MS-21–all late. It’s the new normal. Ernie Arvai at AirInsight takes a look at why.

Catching Boeing: Airbus may well have trailed Boeing through the Farnborough Air Show in terms of orders, but it may also be on the way toward catching up. The big PAL order for 54 aircraft was announced this week. A 100-airplane order out of China is due to be announced shortly. Another 100 airplane order from AirAsia appears to be pending. Year-to-date, Boeing has 701 net orders and Airbus has 270 net orders. These three orders still leaves Airbus well short of Boeing, and Boeing has more 737 MAX commitments to convert this year. We expect Boeing to finish the year in first place. It will be interesting to see how close Airbus can come.

NEO firm order wrap: Aviation Week has this detailed recap of NEO firm orders. We expect some of the A320neos to be converted to A321neos as time goes on, just as we expect 737-8 MAX orders to be swapped with 737-9 MAX positions.

Odds and Ends: More on 100-149 seat jet market; aircraft op cost comparisons; Super Guppy

100-149 Seat Market: AirInsight has more on its study of the 100-149 Seat Market analysis and why it will be turbulent in the next five years.

Cost Comparisons: Aspire Aviation has a long article on the Cathay Pacific Airways earnings but to us the most interesting parts are the operating cost comparisons between various CX fleet types. It’s all buried in the article.

Super-Guppy: The Puget Sound Business Journal has a video from inside the NASA Boeing Super Guppy. Based on the old Boeing Stratocruiser, the Super Guppy is a specialty airplane originally designed to transport Atlas rockets. Later, Airbus used them to transport fuselage sections around Europe to final assembly in Toulouse. This is probably the last operating variant of any B-377/C-97/KC-97. It’s the last of the Super Guppies. With the retirement of the NASA Shuttle fleet, we wonder what will become of this airplane.

100-149 seat market isn’t ‘Bermuda Triangle’ for the right airplanes

A new study released today by AirInsight concludes the oft-maligned 100-149 seat market is viable, and not a ‘Bermuda Triangle,’ if the right airplane is developed to compete within it.

We’re a co-author of the study, Market Analysis of the 100-149 Seat Segment.

Some aerospace consultants, analysts and observers–as well as Boeing’s Randy Tinseth, VP-Marketing–term the segment a Bermuda Triangle because of airplane “failures” in the market. But the fact is that except for Embraer’s E-Jet, the poorly-conceived British Aerospace/Avro Jets and Bombardier’s pending CSeries, there hasn’t been a clean-sheet design since the 1960s. All other aircraft have been derivatives of older designs and offerings of weak and dying manufacturers.

We need to add the Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100 to the clean-sheet design list, but this falls into the weak OEM category.

Today there are six aircraft types and 15 sub-types from five OEMs. (There were seven and 16 until Tuesday, when Boeing finally dropped the 737-600.)

AirInsight has an analysis of the future of the A319/A319neo and 737-700/737-7 Max here.

Here is a run-down.

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