Bjorn’s Corner: Intro, LCC long range and CFM’s LEAP

By Bjorn Fehrm

March 19, 2015: This is the first version of my Corner where I will comment on the aeronautical world as I see it. It will be a mix of tech things (I am an engineer) and my view on things from my European vantage point. Enough on reason and style; lets get started.

LCC goes long range: After AirAsiaX and Norwegian, now Ryanair is going long range, according to Irish Times (or not; the latest news from Robert Wall of The Wall Street Journal is that the board has not approved a long range business plan).

Be that as it may with Ryanair, the key thing is that what happened to the majors on short haul is about to hit them on long haul as well. Short haul LCCs brought about a change in airline economics and in single aisle aircraft. The LCCs, followed by Ultra LCCs, started the trend to denser and denser configurations where the latest trends are sub 29 inch pitch slim-seats and lavatories that started at 37 inch getting slimmed to 31 inch. It has also brought about changes in galleys and emergency exits configurations, all leading to aircraft with higher and higher capacities.

Will long haul LCCs bring similar changes to long haul aircraft? And which aircraft will be the workhorse of LCC longhaul, the A321LR, 787-8/9 or A330-800/900? Can the Boeing 737-8ERX take a slice? It is all up in the air. AirAsia X and Norwegian started with A330-300 and 787-8 as these were the only entry long range alternatives at the time. Today a long haul LCC has more choice. It can start life with a lower-risk, high density A321LR or 737ERX (if Boeing decides to launch the concept).

NAS 738 LOPA 18+150= 168 seats

Figure 1. Transatlantic cabin for long range  LCC 737-8 with 168 seats. Source: Leeham Co. Click for crisp view.

When looking into long haul with Norwegian’s 737 MAX 8, we concluded that their long range seating standard would give a 737-8 168 seats over the Atlantic, whereof 18 are Premium economy seats, Figure 1.

An A321LR in a similar configuration would bring around 190 seats, both quite useful numbers as the seat costs would be lower than for 787-8 or A330-900 and range would be around 4,000nm for both with these lighter cabin types. Deduct 500nm for winds and alternates longer than 200nm and one has enough to cover a good slice of the US from e.g. London (Figure 2).

3500nm@stn

Figure 2. Covered regions with 3500nm sector lenghts from Stanstead London. Source: Great Circle Mapper.

It shows how far a realistic maximum sector length of 3,500nm would take a long haul LCC with these aircraft. Quite a few cities would be reachable, among those the ones that Ryanair would start with according to Irish Times; New York, Boston and with Chicago on the range limit.

The selection among long range suspects is not clear cut. LCC long haul could establish single aisle transatlantic services as taking a sizable slice of the market. Among the entry level twin aisles, it will be a question of availability in addition to performance. While Boeing’s 787 has the performance edge Airbus’ A330 has a pricing and availability advantage. The 787 is sold out to 2020. The A330ceo line is not fully booked and the A330neo begins delivery in Q4 2017 with slots available thereafter.

 

LEAP in trouble? Aspire Aviation claims that LEAP-1A for A320neo and -1B for 737 MAX is behind on SFC, the -1A with around 2% and -1B with 4-5%. We contacted CFM for a comment but they did not want to comment on rumors.

Then we checked with Boeing and they told us, “While we normally don’t comment on industry rumors and speculation, the Aspire report is highly inaccurate and misleading. We are on track to deliver on our commitments to our customers.”

Without getting into who’s right, it is important to keep in mind that when judging the Aspire information one has to look at where these engines are in their development cycle. LEAP-1A is starting flight test on A320neo with first engine in 2-3 months with serial deliveries during 2016, LEAP-1B should fly next year on 737 for deliveries in 2017.

The situation for LEAP shall be compared to where Pratt & Whitney (PW) is with its PW1100G. It has been flying on CSeries since September 2013 and on A320neo since October 2014. The engine that started flight testing on A320neo in October “was not full spec” according to Airbus COO Tom Williams when we met him in late January “but we accepted it as we could do useful flight testing while waiting for a series conform engine that will be fitted now”.

So not being up to full specification at different phases of a program is part of engine development. Overall PW has done a good job with GTF and all indications are it will meet performance at EIS on both CSeries and A320neo. The GTF project was PW’s bet-the-company way to comeback in civil airliners and PW have acted accordingly; with several test engine programs preceding the final PW1000G generation.

Whether the LEAP is not meeting SFC spec in different test shall not be valued without knowing more why. Are the engines final spec and configuration? What is the expected evolution until flight test on the target aircraft and to EIS of the engine variant?

The LEAP ramp is under way and while any SFC deviation can be fixed later, deliveries cannot. We believe CFM priority must be meeting delivery targets, the engine program is on route to be the worlds largest and the ramp is over twice that of PW GTF. GE and CFM are the world’s largest engine companies, they have the resources and financial statue to choose the route to EIS they see fit. If that route would mean an initial SFC miss, while not optimal, we would take it.

To round things off, when judging where engine program are one shall use the correct timescale; where are they re their EIS dates and not compared to an alternate engine which EIS ahead of it.

28 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Intro, LCC long range and CFM’s LEAP

  1. Long-haul LCCs: I think there is a reason that long-haul LCC services haven’t taken off almost two decades after LCCs became big.
    The ultra-high density configurations Björn mentioned, which LCCs need to make their business model work, work quite well from a CASM perspective – but numbers aside, you’ll have people in those seats. And for passengers, spending ~2h tops in a small tube with negligible legroom and overpriced drinks (but for a cheap fare) as well as chargeable check-in luggage is a different proposition from spending 6h plus under similar conditions. Keeping hydrated is a necessity on long haul, for starters.

    Sure, that’s all stuff that can be worked around or adjusted – but that would constitute quite a big change to the “pure” LCC model. With that change, both service and price would have to come closer to what legacy carriers offer. So I wouldn’t assume the long-haul LCC revolution as a given just yet.

    (Although regarding seat comfort I have to say that, between the 1 year-old Aeroflot A320 and the 1 year-old Aeroflot 773ER, the single aisle plane had much better seat comfort in Y class.)

    • They also have less comparative advantage in working the utilisation rates on much long haul, especially early on. My guess (and I bow to those with much better insight than me) is that, if they do set up TransAtlantic (as seems to be the first long range serious target), LCCs will eventually evolve into mainly operating with 2 or more hubs on the US East Coast and 2 Irish/UK hubs on the European side. Might be via eg Ryanair setting up a US subsidiary/associate or via a partnership between eg Ryanair and JetBlue, assuming they are culturally capable of aligning product offerings. Then use very frequent widebody services on the pond hop, which would gradually expand the range of potential hubs each side. Basically they’d evolve through the same hub and spoke era as legacy carriers did, but eventually go more point-to-point. All with much lower overheads.

  2. Aviation history is littered with failed long-haul LCCs going back to the days of Freddie Laker.

    Heck, if AirAsia X can make a balls-up of long-haul LCC flying, I’m struggling to see how anyone can make it work.

    BBC reporting that Ryanair has dropped the idea. Or was it just another publicity stunt all along?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31975456

    • But the likes of Laker were unprepared Davids against Goliaths. Ryanair, for one, is a Goliath, so has the deep pockets to avoid being squashed.

      • “But the likes of Laker were unprepared Davids against Goliaths.”

        Well, legacy carriers were initially unprepared for Ryanair’s and Easyjet’s assaults as well. Not so much when it comes to long-haul. Even good old auntie Lufthansa already has firm plans for long-haul low cost under the banner Eurowings.

        Another issue for LCCs setting up long haul is feeder traffic. Well, for their business model, anyway. At the moment, there is no real concept of connecting flights and check-through baggage with most LCCs. (I say most because Air Asia is currently playing with check-through baggage – called Fly-Thru by them – so they can offer flights e.g. from Cambodia via Bangkok to Myanmar.)

        With connecting flights and check-through baggage, planning your schedules become a lot more complicated as you’re dealing with much bigger knock-on effects. Keeping to your strict 30 minute turnaround time and maintaining the on-time statistics Ryanair likes to flaunt to much becomes a lot more challenging and thus potentially more costly.

        • Unlike Laker etc. though, the LCCs entered a) in the lower margin short haul business (ie didn’t hit the legacies where it really hurt), b) enetred after the privatisation of airports, giving them a much better chance of sustained access, and c) (especially in case of Ryanair) chose not to compete directly at all, by using alternate airports instead. All allowed them to grow strongly while being considered as much as anything as an irritant rather than a threat to profitability. Plus helped by the head in the sand attitude of sufficient unionised employees (as still in evidence last year at Air France).

      • Having done 5 hr long haul international in a ‘narrow tube’ a couple of times, the idea of a twin aisle being some sort of extra comfort is misleading. You can only worry about the aisle that is near to your seat, the other aisle is hardly visited if ever. The seats are very much the same, service etc.
        As for passing the time, the personal screens do the trick, passengers are busily searching whats on offer as the plane taxis for takeoff.
        The best part is boarding, no vast crowd but instead a manageable number, and same goes for landing. No sea of people around ‘your’ carousel.

        • I agree. Just so long as the seats actually have padding and sufficient space (and I’m one who finds 320s much more comfortable than 737s, all for that minor increase in shoulder space and wiggle space on the squab).

  3. The LCCs capitalized on major changes in technological infrastructure 20 years ago (the quick spread of Internet and personal computing), when “classic” airlines were burdened by large infrastructures (luxurious international travel agency networks) and less willing to take advantage of the dramatic improvements in technology.

    In the meantime “Classic” airlines have adjusted to the pressure of “New Technologies”, reduced their infrastructures and adjusted to the new levels of product reliability and maintainability. They also incorporated some of the LCC philosophies (Internet based tools, reduced pitch, ancillary revenues, etc.). This resulted in a continuous reduction of the ticket price gaps between Classical airlines and LCCs.

    As a consequence of this 20 year process, now a “Long Range LCC” can capitalize on much smaller cost gaps than 20 years ago.

    Many of the large Classic airlines did however push some of their costs from the domestic/short haul network onto the Long Range routes.

    Well, maybe it is time to rethink again.

  4. How about, Ryanair and Easyjet picking up the A380s that Emirates will start dropping in a few years, packing 850 people and move them between large metro areas.

    • a transatlantic joint venture between America’s most hated (Spirit) and Europe’s most hated (Ryan Air) using ex-ME3 A380’s configured with the main deck at 11 wide by 29″ and top deck @ 9 wide*29…

      flying between Boston and Dublin…

      what a nightmare.

      • right up until they have to pay $15 to use one of the 3 lavatories that weren’t ripped out to cram in more seats…..

  5. “the Aspire report is highly inaccurate and misleading” said Boeing’s PR.
    Daniel won’t be pleased at all after trying to hump Boeing’s leg for most of his adult life….

    • I laughed out loud on TNR’s comment, so I let it go. But a note to Readers: this is ordinarily beyond our Reader Comment rules, so don’t think you can do more of this.

      Hamilton

      • Scott: A better sense of humor than I have (at least in this case) I thought it was disgusting, good to have different perspective and your indulgence in this case.

        note to self not to expect a reprieve if done in future by yours truly.

  6. I want to thank Leham for hosting this column Corner by Bjorn Fehrm.
    While I understand the paywall there are many of us who cannot begin to afford it and still a deep love of aviation and like to participate, this is a wonderfully opportunity to do so.

    I also want to thank Bjorn Fehrm for taking his time for an open forum comment column. A real bonus to me is that he is has solid credentials as an engineer (from reading his publication’s they are well supported technically ) bringing that perspective to the presentation.

    I would like to have more of Bjorns background as I am interested and maybe others as well.

    And I want to say that I like spirited discussion which does not mean its a personal slap at anyone (including Bjorn) though I am guilty of annoyance at pie in the sky ideas that are not supported on realistic grounds.

    I very much look forward to Bjorns Corner

    In that spirit I would like to offer a correction, from the chart I would describe A320NEO access to North America as the North East with what looks like Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis thrown in) not a good slice of the United States (though a lot of population granted) ! (spoken as a Westerner and more so from Alaska which leaves out about 80% of US out of range!

    And I am just sort of standing back as while technically feasible I have not a clue if a LCC can really make long distance work (and like all new endeavors no one else does either, its a guess and you only find out if it does work where the ones that try are visionary and the ones that fail are foolish flops.
    We would still be laughing at the Wright brothers if they were only visionaries, they were also amazingly good aerodynamic experts intuition wise of the time feel wise to accomplish what they did. You just never know till its gone one way or the other.

    Technically I also begin to see the stirrings of the 4000 range Boeing twin concept slotting in and possibly quite viable/lucrative if LCC does work in that range segment

  7. Hi Transworld,

    as to my background, I am an aeronautical engineer and ex military fighter pilot. Swedish Air Force has as one of few countries a combined fighter pilot and engineer career, I flew SAAB 105 and then Draken, I also participated in the Gripen project both on the Air Force and industry side, working for SAAB.

    I then spent many years in the computer industry before returning to aeronautics, now focused on civil aerospace. I am the creator of the airline performance model we use to evaluate the aircraft.

    Bjorn

  8. Bjorn also holds several patents that are in use on fighters.

    • wow again. Not too often my jaw goes agape and no words come out but this is certainly one of those.

      Beyond impressive

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