Bjorn’s Corner: New aircraft technologies. Part 32. Design for production

By Bjorn Fehrm

September 29, 2023, ©. Leeham News: We are discussing the Detailed design phase of an airliner development program. We have talked about program management methods, development techniques, and tools for Detailed design.

But there is one area that is more important than even the aircraft aerodynamic, structural, and systems design for a new Heart-Of-The-Market aircraft: how to produce it in higher volumes and at lower cost than before.

Figure 1. The production of an A350 composite airliner. Source: Airbus.

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Further developments of Airbus’ A321

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By Bjorn Fehrm

September 28, 2023, © Leeham News: We recently looked at the latest developments around Airbus’ A321XLR certification. When the certification is completed, it extends the A321 to a true Trans-Atlantic airliner.

After the A321XLR, what will be Airbus’ next development? A clean sheet replacement for the A320/A321 series won’t be needed until Boeing replaces the 737 MAX family next decade, and we have described why we think an A220-500 will not happen anytime soon.

The A320/A321 is Airbus main source of revenue and margin. It would, therefore, be a logical focus for further development to keep the success going into the next decade. But what can be done? Is the A321neo with the A321LR and XLR the end of the development of the A321? We use our Airliner Performance and Cost Model (APCM) to analyze A321 fundamentals and look at how to increase capacity and efficiency further.

Figure 1. The Airbus A321XLR. Source: Airbus.

  • From launch 40 years ago, the A320 family has increased capacity by 66%, more than doubled range, and reduced fuel burn per passenger mile by over one-third.
  • What can be achieved over the next 20 years and how?

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Pontifications: “We’re sick and tired of new technologies:” Avolon CEO

By Scott Hamilton

Editor’s Note: As Airbus and Boeing consider new airplanes, their current generation aircraft are plagued with technical issues. The engines on the A320neo and 737 MAX families continue to have problems years after entry into service. The Boeing 787, which had ground-breaking technology when it was designed, has production issues. Flight testing early on revealed technical problems with the engine on the 777X, prompting the president of Emirates Airline to publicly suggest he won’t accept delivery until the engines are fully “mature.”

Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast last week examined Boeing’s path toward a new airplane. Boeing CEO David Calhoun insists on waiting for new technology. But “new technology,” while in theory is a great idea, the phrase also scares people. LNA reported on this in March 2020. We’re reposting this article from then.

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By Scott Hamilton

March 16, 2020, © Leeham News: “I can tell you from our perspective, we’re kind of sick and tired of new, new technology. It’s not proven to be the home run.”

This blunt assessment comes from the chief executive officer of the big aircraft lessor, Avolon.

Domhnal Slattery

Domhnal Slattery, the CEO, was giving his critique of whether Boeing should launch a new airplane once the 737 MAX crisis is over. (Update: Since this interview, Slattery retired from Avolon.)

Boeing was on a path to decide whether to launch the New Midmarket Airplane when the MAX was grounded one year ago this month.

Airbus was waiting for Boeing to move before deciding how to respond.

  • Airbus and Boeing should “stick to their knitting.”
  • Focus on incremental improvements for now.
  • 2030s to 2050s will be the next big advance in technologies.

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eVTOL operator profitability: an elusive dream?

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By Judson Rollins

Sept. 25, 2023, © Leeham News: As the hype grows around electric-powered short-haul air mobility, questions linger around the industry’s ability to be profitable without government subsidy.

LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm has written extensively on the cost hurdles facing eVTOL operators. His analysis predicted operating costs of approximately $2.14 per seat-mile, significantly higher than startup Lilium’s 2021 estimate of $1.75. But even the latter is a high bar to clear, as this article will show.

Source: Lilium.

Other startups have been pitching business plans with even lower unit costs. But, as aviation consultant Kevin Michaels pointed out last year, such plans often rely on impossibly high assumptions of load factors and/or utilization.

For instance, Lilium’s cost projections are predicated on 10 hours of average daily utilization. By comparison, US DOT data from 2019 show turboprop utilization averages 7.3 hours, small regional jets average 6.2 hours, and large regional jets average 9.4 hours.

  • Helicopter services demonstrate the difficulty of making urban air mobility profitable.
  • Comparing eVTOL costs to potential revenue highlights a lack of markets.
  • Market forces will allocate scarce pilots to where they generate the most revenue.

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Bjorn’s Corner: New aircraft technologies. Part 31. Detailed design -3

By Bjorn Fehrm

September 22, 2023, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we discussed program management methods for the Detailed design phase of an airliner development program. While the modern Agile work methods suit smaller projects, the sheer size and complexity of an airliner project that involves hundreds of companies require more structured management methods with Agile used for areas where it’s suitable.

We now go a step deeper than program and configuration management and look at development techniques and tools for Detailed design.

Figure 1. The development plan for a new airliner. Source: Leeham Co.

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The Airliner Production Problem, Part 2

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By Bjorn Fehrm

September 19, 2023, © Leeham News: The Airliner OEMs can’t increase their production rates as planned after the pandemic, and it’s become clear it’s not a short-term problem. We started looking at the root causes of the difficulties last week.

We looked at the complex puzzle the production of a modern airliner is and the importance of the learning curve for the result. Now, we analyze the effects that the pandemic had on airliner production and why things are not the same as before the pandemic.

Figure 1. The Boeing 737-8 is sold out for years. Source: Boeing.

  • Last week, we looked at the importance of skills in the supply chain and their influence on production rates.
  • Now, we analyze what happened with skill levels in the industry before, during, and after the pandemic.

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Pontifications: IAM 751 gearing up for Boeing contract talks in 2024

By Scott Hamilton

Sept. 19, 2023, © Leeham News: It’s September 2023, one year ahead of the expirations of the current labor contracts between Boeing and its touch labor union, IAM 751. (The contract with the engineers union, SPEEA, expires in 2026.)

The IAM district, whose members assemble all Boeing airplanes in Washington State, fired a warning shot across Boeing’s bow last week. It wasn’t the first.

751 urged its members to begin saving money in anticipation of a strike in September 2024. That was three years ago.

The strike fund information appeared in the 751’s March 2020 newsletter, Aero Mechanic. The same issue had commentary about the new pandemic. At that point, nobody thought the pandemic would last two years.

Boeing was already in trouble then. The 737 MAX had been grounded since March 2019. There was no end in sight when the grounding would end. Suspension of the 787 deliveries, for what became 20 months, was still another half-year away.

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Analysis: Labor issues continue to challenge aerospace industry

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By Bryan Corliss

Sept. 18, 2023, © Leeham News – One of the continuing themes we’re hearing – at investor presentations and on quarterly earnings calls – is the shortage of skilled labor, which is disrupting deliveries up and down the aerospace industry supply chain.

The inability of suppliers to deliver parts on time – or to deliver correctly assembled parts – is hampering the OEMs as they attempt to ramp up production to meet high demand from airlines.

This is not just an issue affecting aerospace. There’s a general shortage of medium- and high-skill workers in the Western world right now, with shortages of every kind of worker from line cooks to truck drivers. Shortages existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s still strong demand, even with economies slowing as central banks move to tamp down inflation. 

The issue is more pronounced in industries that rely on high-skill workers – like aerospace.

One outcome of this worker shortage is a rise in union activism. In aerospace, we’ve seen the strike by the International Association of Machinists against Spirit AeroSystems this summer, and the near strike by members of the same union against Boeing’s defense business in and around St. Louis last year.

Next year, both Spirit and Boeing will be back at the bargaining table; Spirit to negotiate with members of SPEEA, the union for aerospace engineers, while Boeing holds talks with IAM District 751, which represents hourly workers at the company’s plants in Puget Sound and Oregon. 

IAM 751, in fact, is urging members to prepare for what it’s describing as a September 2024 contract vote that will “forever change the aerospace industry.” 

The environment seems to be favorable to the unions, for reasons we’ve discussed before. However, with the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers heavily in debt (and currently bleeding red ink), there’s going to be a limit to what the companies will be willing to offer in a bid to satisfy their labor forces.

  • Demand for workers remains strong
  • Lack of skilled labor is hurting industry
  • Boeing, Spirit aren’t strong financially
  • UAW strike bellwether for next year’s talks

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GE Aero sees growth through 2026, despite supply chain snags

By Bryan Corliss

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Sept. 15, 2023, © Leeham News – Demand for aircraft engines and spare parts will continue to grow in 2025-26, but perhaps at a slower rate than what the industry is currently experiencing, the CFO of GE Aerospace said at an investor conference Thursday.

“Clearly the demand is robust,” Rahul Gai, who is CFO of both GE and GE Aerospace, told investors gathered at Morgan Stanley’s annual Laguna Conference. “We are trying to ensure we meet the demand expectations.” 

GE Aero plans to deliver some 2,000 LEAP engines next year, which is up from this year’s projected total of 1,700, he said. This comes even as the company continues to deal with supply chain constraints caused in part by a lack of skilled labor. 

  • GE Aero and Vernova on track for two-company split
  • Chinese recovery driving 2023 growth
  • GE sending engineers to help its suppliers

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Bjorn’s Corner: New aircraft technologies. Part 30. Detailed design -2

By Bjorn Fehrm

September 15, 2023, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we described the beginning of the Detailed design phase of an airliner development program. We discussed the importance of a good information set from Preliminary design, ideally as a collection of digital models forming a Preliminary level digital twin.

We now discuss how the work is managed in the Detailed design phase and how to speed up the work and make it more efficient.

Figure 1. The development plan for a new airliner. Source: Leeham Co.

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