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).
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).
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.