We’ve been at the Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse, with about 200 others from around the globe. Here are some highlights:
A380 wing rib issues: As reported previously in various media, Tom Williams, EVP-programs, outlined the issues with the wing rib cracks. A new metal alloy was used, intended to save weight, that cracked in operations despite fatigue testing failing to discover the issue on a test airplane. Williams attributed the failure to detect the cracks to inadequate instrumentation on the test plane. The new alloy saved about 300kg. There are 60 L-brackets out of 4,000 that require inspection and only 20 are affected. The issue does not affect flight safety and the ribs can be replaced either during a C Check or during a nose-to-tail maintenance check. The “Type 2” cracks, the most serious of two types found, have to be replaced by 1,300 cycles.
A350-800/1000 sales: Boeing has been aggressively casting doubts on these two sub-types, pointing out that there have been no sales since 2008. John Leahy, COO Customers, said there haven’t been sales because he doesn’t have any delivery slots available until the end of the decade. He’s been switching some customers from the 800 to the 900, which is more profitable to Airbus. Where did he get the slots? He won’t say but in a press gaggle after his presentation, he acknowledged to an Indian journalist that Kingfisher Airlines—an A350, A320 and A380 customer—deferred all its deliveries to relieve the need for pre-delivery payments. We asked Leahy if he was re-selling the Kingfisher slots and he demurred, saying that was “confidential.”
(We note that Boeing had a long dry spell in sales of the 787 during the depths of the problems with the airplane and the backlog stretching to late this decade.)
Leahy also said Boeing’s claims that he, Leahy, doesn’t know what the -1000 “is” are false.
A320 v 737: If the war of words over the A350 wasn’t enough, Leahy—and to a lesser extent, Williams, whose focus was principally the A380—repeated the Airbus messaging begun last November at the Credit Suisse conference in New York that fan size does matter and the 737 MAX comes up short. Airbus figures the MAX at best (pre-dating the recent Boeing changes) will gain 8% over the 737NG. We asked Leahy later about the move by Boeing to take the CFM LEAP-1B fan size to 69.4 inches and to add the “Boeing Advanced Technology Winglets” (BATW) to the MAX. Boeing now claims the MAX will be a 13% improvement over the NG. Leahy, who compared the BATW with the MD-11 winglets, said Boeing will get only about one-half percent improvement from this. The 69.4 inch fan still falls short, he said.
Williams, a former engine engineer, said the hotter temperatures and ceramics technology required of the LEAP-1B, will present maintenance challenges.
Wait on that weight: Boeing for years emphasizes that the 737 is a lighter airplane than the A320. Are the tables about to turn? Airbus thinks the redesigned MAX will be 700kg heavier than the A320neo. We shall see.
A330 v Boeing: Boeing is again calling the 787 the A330 killer. Not surprisingly, Leahy disagrees. Further increases in weight are contemplated for the A330-300 to give it more range. The A330-300 has lower ownership costs compared with the 787-9 equaling $113,000 per month, according to the Airbus calculation. The A330-200 and the early, heavy-weight 787-8 have about the same range, Leahy says.
United Airlines order: Airbus loses this order to Boeing over price, says Leahy. Boeing is making up for the economic deficiencies of MAX to NEO by dropping the price dramatically, he says.
Airbus v Boeing, Wide-Bodies: Here’s an interesting concept that came out of the Airbus Innovation Days during dinner. Airbus and Boeing compete head-to-head, brutally so, in the single-aisle market. This market is huge. The twin-aisle market, on the other hand, while hardly insignificant, is more limited but the financial risks are higher. Going forward, suggests on Airbus executive, it might make more sense for the two behemoths to have complimentary twin-aisle aircraft instead of competing head-to-head. For example, Boeing has a monopoly for the new technology aircraft in the 210-250 seat market, filled by the 787-8. Airbus has a larger A350-800,stepping up to the -900 and then the -1000. Boeing is talking about a 407-seat 777-9X, which would have no competition.
It’s an interesting theory which, of course, is far off into the future if at all. Boeing has the 787-9 in development to compete against the A350-900, which in turn competes head-to-head against the 777-200. The 1000 competes against the 777-300ER. We were intrigued by the suggestion—and promptly dismiss it as impractical.
Airbus and Mobile (AL): Perk up, down there—we think Airbus could decide by year-end whether to establish a production site in Mobile. The company is studying it and some key officials think it make long-term strategic sense. The challenge is whether the business case exists now to go forward. With the news out of the Innovation Days that bumping up the A320 production rate beyond 42/mo is off the table for the time being, it would seem the business case isn’t there. But over the next generation (in human terms, not airplane terms), and the always-present foreign exchange issue, establishing a US-dollar-based assembly line has a lot of appeal. Airbus also has a sense of wanting to work with those who strongly supported the effort to provide the US Air Force with the A330-based tanker.
A330neo: Forget about it. Not any time in the foreseeable future.
Saving $9bn: The A320neo program costs Airbus only $1bn (the engine makers pick up the rest). This saves $9bn to apply to a New Small Airplane development.
Boeing Won’t Abandon MAX for NSA: Christian Scherer, EVP Strategy and Future Programs, does not believe Boeing will abandon the 737 MAX in favor of a New Small Airplane despite the challenges Boeing has in redesigning the airplane.
Stop going for the jugular: Scherer, without naming names but the parties were obvious, urged both sides of the Atlantic to stop going for the jugular and come up with common ground on regulations. Failure to do so enables other manufacturers to laugh all the way to the bank.
Commercially, we’re relatively serene: Scherer says new airplanes like the MS-21, C919, etc., don’t bring anything new to the table, so “commercially, we’re relatively serene.” Everyone has an Airbus or Boeing so these new airplanes won’t be successful outside of Russia, China.