Wednesday’s Farnborough impressions

Pretty dull today. A couple of orders. Boeing did dedicated tanker brief, rolling out the successor to Mark McGraw, the previous head of the tanker program. Dave Bowman comes from the C-17 program.

Perhaps not surprisingly facing a large contingent of Europe press, the questions were tough, or in the words of one American journalist we connected with late, “brutal.” Maybe we’re jaded (some will say we’re insensitive, but we won’t pursue this train of thought), but we thought it was just a “tough” press conference with the questions one would expect under the circumstances.

The questions focused on alleged protectionism on the part of Boeing in filing the protest (Boeing previously denied such and did again); whether it will protest a redefined request for proposal, as officials have previously suggested (not directly answered in the 45 minutes we were present, but Boeing takes the position that a redefined RFP ought to result in starting the process over from Square One [our term]); and so on, along these lines.

Boeing, at last, clarified how it comes up with its assertions that the KC-30 of Northrop Grumman, based on the Airbus A330-200, will require $44 billion in fuel more than the KC-767 over 40 years, based on $200/bbl oil.

It was detailed and, for those uninitiated in the ways of airplane economics, rather arcane. To put it succinctly, and very simplistically, Boeing’s paid consultant makes the calculation based on what in the aviation industry is termed “trip costs.” This means how much fuel is burned from engine start to engine stop. On this basis, including other calculations, Boeing’s consultant arrives at his opinion.

Boeing points out, correctly, that the A330 uses more fuel than the 767. Countering Northrop’s long-held rebuttal, and in answer to a question at the briefing, Boeing says comparing the passenger operations of the two airplanes isn’t applicable because the Air Force isn’t concerned with what is known as seat-mile costs. This is the cost of operations divided by the number of seats on board to arrive at a cost-per-seat.

For passenger operations, the A330, larger than the 767, burns more fuel but has more seats so the seat-mile cost is lower. For the Air Force, the dynamics are obviously different, so Boeing contends that trip mile costs should be the relevant yardstick.

Northrop responds (obviously not at the Boeing briefing, though) that the Air Force analysis based on intended operations concluded that the KC-30 is 6% more efficient.

There was a great deal more to the briefing, but we think you have the gist of it.

For a report on who Dave Bowman is and why he is now heading the tanker program, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s James Wallace has this story. The story raises the prospect of Boeing offering a tanker based on the very long 767-400. We asked a similar question of Bowman, only why not the 767-300? This would still be a “medium” plane as defined by the Rand Corp. Analysis of Alternatives (the 777 is a “large” plane, under the Rand AOA), and it would be closer in size to the KC-30.

Bowman essentially said anything is possible, but in response to a question from Steve Trimble of Flight International, Bowman said to avoid a tail strike with the refueling boom on takeoff, a long take-off roll and a shallower rotation would be required, which would potentially not meet the runway performance requirement (7,000 ft) of the RFP.

Here are some of the stories to come out of the air show on the tanker:

International Herald Tribune;

Reuters, including some further reporting on the fuel burn issue;

Finally, The Mobile Press-Register’s JD Crowe once again has a biting anti-Boeing cartoon on the tanker. Boeing needs to get a cartoonist to get equal time.

Update: For those keeping a running tally, through Wednesday Airbus is leading in announced orders, 241 to 201, but 100 of the Airbus airplanes were announced last November at the Dubai Air Show; the paperwork was finally signed at Farnborough.

5 Comments on “Wednesday’s Farnborough impressions

  1. How many people does Boeing employ in Alabama? I know there are some at Huntsville, and I believe at least one other site. Have any of them written into the Mobile Press-Register?

  2. Very informative post. I’ve wondered from the start why Boeing didn’t offer the longer 767 variants when faced with the A330-based competitor. I suspected it had to do with length but thought it might have been structural weight issues because of the need to beef it up for fuel.

    Now I know otherwise, but need to look up comparative landing gear lengths to answer another question.


  3. Robert,
    Having always been raised pro union, I came to
    understand that if Alabama wants to have equal jobs, quality of life, etc., we have to fight for our
    area the same way that the Northwest does. I vote Democrat but every time a Democrat gets in office Mobile, Alabama loses an economic opportunity. Brookley Field Air Force Base, 1965.
    Naval Homeport, 1992. Obama? Northrupt/Eads 2008. Understand, I do support Boeing. I hope they land the most orders in Farnborough. I am an American. We just want a bit of the pie. We need jobs too. Best Regards

  4. Aha! It looks like the 767-300 has the same length landing gear as the -200, but the -400 has mains that are ~23in longer to deal with the takeoff/tailstrike issue. Can’t tell for certain, because these are not the most referenced dimensions for aircraft 😉

  5. Nice… I like how Boeing won the contract and then won the WTO ruling…

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