June 22, 2015, c. Leeham Co. The Paris Air Show was largely as expected, with a few small surprises. Boeing did better than expected via-a-vis Airbus, actually leading slightly in firm orders and tied in orders-and-options going into Thursday. This is virtually never the case, particularly at the Paris Air Show, Airbus’ “home” turf. At the same time, some Wall Street analysts noted the firm orders fell below expectations. I’m not especially concerned about whether an announcement was firm or a commitment, because the latter typically firm up, if not within the current calendar year then usually in the next. Note, for example, Boeing announced the launch of the 777X program at the 2013 Dubai Air Show was some 200 commitments, or thereabouts, but the orders didn’t firm until 2014. Airbus announced a commitment for 250 A320s from Indigo in 2014 and it will likely be firmed up this year.
Some breathed a sigh of relief at the commitment by Volga-Dnepr for 20 747-8Fs, noting this is a “year and a half” worth of production. Well, yes, if Volga takes one airplane a month for 20 months. We must wait for understanding the delivery stream. Is Volga really going to take 12 747-8Fs in one year and eight in the next? This strikes us as pretty aggressive. Assuming all commitments become firm orders and it’s not a mix of firm and options (which remains to be seen how this deal is structured, by the way–Boeing’s press release on this is ambiguous on this point), this certainly is good news for the 747-8F line.
The orders for nine 777Fs from Taiwan’s EVA and Qatar Airways also helps the 777 Classic line, but as with the 747-8F, we need to see the delivery stream to see how these help fill the production gap. Note that freighter orders enable Boeing to fill close-in gaps, because Buyer Furnished Equipment isn’t needed, and this typically requires two year lead times.
Airbus won an important order to fill its production gap for the A330 with the A330 Regional order, the first for this variant, from Saudi Airlines. It wasn’t the expected Chinese order, but we learned during IATA that the deal with China for an A330 completion center isn’t done and the A330R deal with China is tied to the completion center.
We need to wait for data bases to be updated to reflect the delivery dates of the orders and commitments before we can draw conclusions on the production gaps of the 747-8, 777 Classic and A330.
More thrust, please
With little new news to come at Paris, two topics emerged over subjects that have already been somewhat beaten to death. The first centered around a controversy LNC lit after I interviewed Tim Clark, president and COO of Emirates, at the IATA conference June 9. Clark told me that the competition between the Airbus 350-900 and the Boeing 787-10 was still wide open and he had concerns over the 787-10’s thrust capability at the very challenging Dubai International Airport, where temperatures in the summer can easily reach 50C or higher.
The Seattle Times report from the Paris Air Show reaffirmed ours from IATA June 9. The Charleston Post and Courier, where the 787-10 will be built, added comment from an engineer, addressing the GEnx or Rolls-Royce engines.
LNC’s Bjorn Fehrm, an aerospace engineer, modeled the A350-900 and 787-10 performance at Dubai, taking two deep-dive looks at the 787-10 vs the A350-900 here and here. These explain why the 787-10 has a problem at Dubai. There’s no need to recap Bjorn’s studies here when you can go to his in-depth pieces via the links. While Airbus was predictably dismissive of the 787-10, Bjorn’s model is neutral and the results are what they are. The 787-10 needs more thrust to perform to its maximum potential, and that’s that.
“The thing that makes the 787-10 so good and efficient works against it in Dubai,” Bjorn says. “The small, light wing makes it require higher take-off speed than the A350-900, which has a large wing (it shall also work for -1000) due to a wingloading of 122 lb/ft2 versus 144 for 787-10. This delays lift-off and requires stronger engines to get to this speed. The lower span makes it harder to get to V2, safety speed, drag due to weight (induced drag) is high, once again requiring stronger engines. The engines at 76klbf that is offered to Emirates is already a 10% stretch of the std 70klbf ones, they can therefore not be stretched to 84klbf” Clark told The Seattle Times is required.
The ultimate question, to which only Emirates knows the answer, is what is the intended use. If EK doesn’t intend to use the 787-10 to its maximum potential, ie, on routes far shorter than the 7,000nm max range/payload, then perhaps the 787-10 works, insufficient thrust notwithstanding. However, if EK wants an airplane to have the potential for its maximum use, then the 787-10 has a problem that only new engines will overcome.
The other “big” story, which is really a non-story at this stage, to emerge from the PAS is about an airplane that doesn’t exist for a market that remains largely undefined and which is mis-characterized in any event: the so-called 757 replacement.
First, as we noted way back in February and March, the term “757 replacement” completely misrepresents what is needed. We did a series of reports on what we called the “225/5000 Sector” (225 seats, 5,000nm Sector), which Boeing had begun called the Middle of the Market Airplane. We pointed out then that this is really the replacement for the Boeing 767-200ER and Airbus A300, something FlightGlobal’s Ascend consultancy pointed out in an air show-timed short paper but which followed our lead by three or four months.
Boeing gathered some good headlines with some well-timed MOM stories and reporters, hungry for some headlines, obliged. But as yet, this story is probably a year too soon. Next year’s Farnborough Air Show is where we look for some real meat on this bone.
Finally, not as big as MOM is the Big Daddy, the prospect of the A380neo. Reporters, including this one, couldn’t help but ask Airbus about this over and over and over again. Airbus’ John Leahy said a modest stretch would likely accompany any re-engining (and this was real news), but no decision had been made. Since Emirates Airline is the big proponent, the Dubai Air Show seems the most likely venue to announce a decision.