Odds and Ends: Contrary views of Mulally; Cathay considers 420-seat 777-9X; Long haul flight log; a walk in the park

Contrary views of Mulally: With increasing media speculation about the prospect of Alan Mulally returning to Seattle to take the helm of Microsoft, a company in need of strong and creative leadership, two interesting and contrary views of the former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes emerged.

The first we’ll put up is from Steve Wilhelm at the Puget Sound Business Journal, who wrote this piece recalling Mulally. The second is an old Business Week article that is considerably less flattering.

Mulally was passed over to head The Boeing Co. twice. After the second time, he left to become CEO of Ford Motor Co., saving it from bankruptcy (rivals GM and Chrysler didn’t avoid this fate), and remaking it into a profitable entity.

Many at Boeing believe that had Mulally stayed, many of the problems that emerged from the 787 program would have been avoided. This is, of course, a matter of speculation, but there is no getting around that his successor, Scott Carson, as a finance expert and salesman, didn’t have the engineering background necessary to cope with the emerging debacle of the 787 and 747-8 programs.

Microsoft has been stagnant under the tepid leadership of Steve Ballmer. Mulally, at 67, is old by CEO standards, but he certainly would shake things up at the stodgy company.

A retrospective New York Times article talks with Mulally and looks at Boeing in May 2006. Four months later, Mulally was CEO of Ford.

Cathay considers 420-seat 777-9X: Cathay Pacific Airways is considering becoming a launch customer for the Boeing 777X, reports Aspire Aviation. The configuration considered is a 420-seat version. Aspire cites an internal CX newsletter.

We noted on September 10 that Air Canada is jamming in 458 seats in a Boeing 777-300ER. The 777-9X is somewhat larger so it’s obvious CX won’t be using a similar seat pitch or business/first class size as Air Canada. But at 420 seats, this, too, is solidly within the Very Large Aircraft sector. (Boeing insists the 777-9X is not a VLA, however.)

As with the Air Canada -300ER, and as we have written many times, the -9X makes the 747-8I irrelevant and, in our view, represents the final nail in the coffin of the poor-selling 747-8I. The 9X in an Air Canada configuration probably would easily push 450 seats, becoming a clear threat to the Airbus A380. We think this is why Airbus began touting 11 abreast coach seating for the dual-deck airplane, adding 40 seats to the capacity. So far as we know, no airline has bought into this concept.

The VLA market was fragmenting already with the current generation of aircraft (777, A330, 787 and soon the A350). It will shrink further with the 777-9X.

Airbus had maintained a consistent 20-year forecast of about 1,200-1,300 VLA passenger models since it launched the A380 in 2000. Boeing has reduced its forecast to a mere 540 VLAPs. Airbus released its latest 20 year forecast on September 24 in a press conference in London that continues to predict the same number of VLAs over the next 20 years. We’re already 13 years into the original Airbus 20 year forecast for VLAs, and the figure hasn’t changed much since then (in fact, it’s gone up slightly).

As we wrote way back in July, the A380 continues to struggle.

Long Haul Flight Log: This is priceless. And accurate. Hat tip to Mary Kirby.

An Aside: We often take our Golden Retriever to Soaring Eagle Park in King County for a hike. One morning this week, we came across this scene of backlit morning sun, some fall colors and a spider web (center of the picture). This Blackberry photo doesn’t do the scene justice, but we thought we’d share this example of Mother Nature’s work anyway.

Spider Web

Photo by Scott Hamilton

36 Comments on “Odds and Ends: Contrary views of Mulally; Cathay considers 420-seat 777-9X; Long haul flight log; a walk in the park

  1. RE Mulally. even after I retired, I had several dealings with Alan in person and by email. And I know several who also had and still have dealings with him. 1) He always responded to emails, and ‘listened”
    2) He did/does not put up with bullpucky or snow jobs. 3) he can be very polite, but at the4 same time ‘ hard ‘ – and as some wag wrote years ago as hard as a diamond. 4) he is, IMO, a fair ways from perfect, but will admit to his own ‘oopsies”
    5) he likes seattle area ( especially when compared to deee troit ).

    Yes he would shake up Microsoft- which IMO is sorely needed

    Disclaimer – I’m one of probably several hundred people (over the years ) who was physically hugged by Alan. This startled not only myself , but also several BA employees . This after introducing myself at an memorial for a friend of both of us- and for which I had notified him of that persons impending demise.

    • “He did/does not put up with bullpucky”

      But…Mullaly could sure sling the ‘ole Bullpucky! Take a look at this old video where the Maestro himself unveils he magic Sonic Cruiser (or the “Chronic Snoozer as venerable John Leahy would say): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W_lRl1uVrg

      Notice the tepid response he receives despite his enthusiasm. That’s because most of the people in the room probably knew enough school-boy physics to realize the Sonic Cruizer was a bad idea that would never make money.

      Seriously…does Boeing really miss this guy?

  2. Scott, any idea why Boeing continues to claim the 777-9X isn’t a VLA? Is it so that they can comment on the A380 by giving effectively an ‘A380 only’ forecast?

  3. “The 9X in an Air Canada configuration probably would easily push 450 seats, becoming a clear threat to the Airbus A380.”

    Put 100 sleeper seats in 777-9X first & then look at the seatcount. The 777-9X is large and can fit many seats. The A380 too, so they compete. Still I think the ~50% bigger space / capacity of the A380 won’t go unnoticed by airlines.

    To put think in perspective, ANA flies 777-300ER’s with 212 seats. So 230 in a 777-9X . IMO that doesn’t make it a 787-8 or A330-200 competitor..


    CX flies 400 seat Regional 777-300s today. Adding a 9x / a few rows gives 420.

    • I suppose the A380 vs 777-9 is a size vs. flexibility choice. 2 A380s vs 3 777-9s? The pressure of size fragmentation in favor of flexibility will hinder the A380.

      The 777-300ER only really had to face the choice between, 2 777-300ERs vs 3 A332s.

      The pressure the 777-9 puts on the A380, the 777-9 will be hindered from below as well. 2 777-9s vs 3 A359 or 3 789s? Looks like the 777-9 has much tougher competition below it in the future, than the 777-300ER has now.

      I guess I see two scenarios. One, no 777x and the A350-1000 is sold in huge numbers. Or, two, the 777x is produced, the 777x and -1000 are duds, the 787-9 and A359 become the size of choice and are as ubiquitous as 738s and A320s.

  4. Scott, the photo is beautiful. I am not familiar with Soaring Eagle Park.

  5. Korean and Singapore put 270-280 seats in a B773, 4-500 in an A380. If they go to 17″, which they will have to if they want to get any value out of the B779-X, they might have 320-330, but then it would be comparable to an 11 wide economy a380 with over 500-550?? Comparing 450 seats on B777 and 450 on an A380 is more like comparing Lobster to Rice than Apples to Oranges!! A380 has much higher potential profit margin.

  6. Business Week: More than his crucial work on Boeing’s 777, and more than his success at turning around the company’s biggest unit, this plane [Sonic Cruiser], he says, will bring him what he desires–“to be remembered as one of Boeing’s many great leaders.”

    This shows that Mulally was not always an inspired man. But I believe he could inspire others. And that’s the most important quality for a leader. I think he was also pushing for the not very successful outsourcing concept on the Dreamliner and he would not have been able to prevent the debacle if he had staid at Boeing.

    But once things stated to go seriously wrong he would probably have lead his troops out of this mess much quicker and with less harm to Boeing’s reputation. That is the essence of good leadership. You don’y judge a CEO on the mistakes he makes, but on the way he solves various problems.

    It is too late now for Mullally to become CEO of Boeing. But I would see him very well as Chairman of the Board after a short stint at Microsoft.

  7. “The 9X in an Air Canada configuration probably would easily push 450 seats”

    By using their 458-seat 77Ws as a guide they could fit 490+ seats in a 779 if they used all of the space for Y and if the aft contour changed to allow 9 or 10 abreast instead of 8.

    As Boeing seems to be reducing from 5 Type A doors there could be a very real limit on seating capacity from a FAA/evacuation perspective.

    • tortugamon – the requirements are:
      – door-limited capacity is 110 passengers per pair of type-A exits
      – the distance between a pair of type A exits cannot exceed 60 ft.

      This is why Boeing must keep five pairs of type A doors for both 777X models

      The FAA added the 60-ft rule in the mid 1980’s after Boeing tried to seal the 747’s over-wing exits claiming it was legal as long as the airplane had fewer than 440 occupants. [The distance between the 2nd and 4th pair of doors is 72 ft.]

      There were retrofit kits for in-service 747’s. The 747-400 was not yet in production; four main deck doors were basic with an option to activate the over-wing pair. Once the rule went into effect the kits were withdrawn. All 747-400’s were built with five pairs of doors. To quote the immortal Gilda Radner “never mind”.

      Oddly, the UK CAA allowed British Airways to do install their kits. BA’s 747-100 and -200 overwing doors stayed sealed until BA scrapped their 747 classics around the turn of this century.

  8. As with the 747-8I, the A380 is coming to the end of its life!!! Yes I said it. When a customer like AF says there is a challenge to having the type in your fleet, it has a challenge. The A350s, 787s, and 777s provide fleet flexiability that a single VLA will not allow. Yes you can cut the number of a/c on a route but the challenge is whether a consistent number of customers want to travel at the time. The other twins provide the option. Sorry Mr. K, tell your boys at Airbus that the forecast needs to change. Yes Alan can do what he did to Micro

  9. You’ve got to believe the Boeing strategy of “point to point”, as opposed to Airbus thinking that the “hub and spoke” is alive and well well into the future, hence the delta in the 20 year forecasts for VLAs. The building of the A380 was all ‘ego’ on behalf of John Leahy and a brilliant move on Alan’s part as his departing shot from Boeing. The A380 will die on the vine w/o any comment from Mr. Leahy as a hugh mistake, but hey what’s the risk to Airbus if it never makes a profit??

    • Risk to Airbus ? I’ll bet if one digs deep enough into financing and subsidies er ‘ government loans” you will find the not well published bit which reads in effect

      Unless XXX A-380 are sold within YY years, zz% or the remainder of the ‘ loaons’ will be forgiven. This in accordance with the long standing GATT-WTO arrangements in place since around 1992 which were used to assist the ‘Airbus’ consortium to compete in the world market at the time.

      Its those same ‘ loans’ at ‘prime’ rates that are and have been the subject of the long running WTO battles betweenn Boeing and Airbus ( by whatever name over the years )

      Having delved very deep into that issue around 2000-2001 and had high level commo with Boeing execs on that issue- I believe its fair to say that the ‘ risk” of poor sales of the A-380 is more political than financial.

  10. VLA: Instead of buying into Airbus or Boeing lets split the category.

    It divides neatly into twin engine VLA and 4 engine. Twins are the future and in numbers and where the sweet spot is yet to be determined. 4 engines are on a glide to termination. The 4 engine VLA splits into Airbus gets the passengers and Boeing get the fright. Big question is if there is enough freight to keep the 747-8F going?

    With the deferred and or bankrupt orders the A380 is substantially less than than what Airbus lists as firm. At what point do they give up? As noted not so much pain as the European public got to fund the A380 social program. Evidence says other than Emirates there is a a finite need (routes) for at best 8 – 12 of the A380 in the long haul fleets. And totally inflexible unlike the twins.

    Boeing 747-8 orders are firm but at risk of not enough further freighter orders to keep it going and its obvious that few passenger orders in the future.

    We can only wait and see. If you guess right you are brilliant, wrong and lame, but its just a guess as particularly for Boeing the freight market is wildly uncertain. Airbus you can see the end coming (and how many last minute orders does Emirates put in to get what they want before it stops production?)

    • “The 4 engine VLA splits into Airbus gets the passengers and Boeing get the fright.”

      Fright?! Freudian slip there?

  11. I noticed in Aspire’s article that there is a quote about the 777-9x being: “10 years from service”.

    So bearing in mind that Cathay could be a “launch customer”, does this imply that EIS for 777-9x is now 2023/24?

  12. Reading the Aspire article gives one the impression that 4 engine cargo aircraft do not have that much of a glowing future, seeing as Cathay seems to be replacing there 747-4 versions with 777s.

      • OV I think the critical factors are single engined take-off and climb out at MTOW after an engine failure and the investment / dynamics/ risks/ ROI of single purpose low volume 150-200k+ lbs engines.

        Once I assumed adding a 30 klbs CFM sized engine (atpu) to a big twin to allow for significant growth might be a lower risk option. But thats a long time ago..

      • Keesje, you don’t need 150,000 lbs to 200,000lbs engines for a 2025 state-of-the-art VLA-twin. For sure, a 2005 state-of-the-art VLA-twin would have required such massive engines. Hence the A380-800.

        A 2025 VLA-twin would have a wing with a very high aspect ratio, and combined with 2025 state-of-the-art engines, the extra wing span made possible with an all new wing, would mean significantly reduced induced drag for the start performance, and consequently, a significantly reduced take-off thrust level.

    • keesje, KLM just called. They thank you for finding their missing pair of GE-90’s, but now it’s time to return them. No questions asked.

      But seriously, once you pass decision speed, a twin must be able to take off with 50% of its installed thrust; for a quad it’s 75%. With all engines, a twin will climb faster to a higher initial cruise altitude than an equivalent quad. Airbus learned that the hard way with the A340 vs the A330.

  13. There is a continual refrain from a certain sector of commentators stating the following;-
    – Global warming is a myth
    – There is an infinite amount of oil available and it will never run out
    – The president of the US is also the leader of the Free World
    – The A380 is dead
    – Darwin was a twit and is dead wrong

    Quite funny actually.

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