Jan. 8, 2018, © Leeham Co.: This is going to be a year of transformations.
This might be viewed with puzzlement by some. After all, only minor-modification models will be entering service this year: the Airbus A350-1000, the Boeing 737-9, the Airbus A319neo and the Boeing 787-10. The first flight of the 737-7 should occur.
Flight testing continues for the Mitsubishi MRJ90, the COMAC C919 and Irkut MC-21.
The proposed deal between Airbus and Bombardier should receive government approvals this year. Talks between Boeing and Embraer may or may not result in a combination of some kind.
The Big Deal, however, resides in Everett (WA).
Production begins for the Boeing 777X and this is where the major transformation is focused.
Boeing embarks on new production techniques with the 777X that are major cost-cutters, if all goes well.
The company experimented a few years ago with Fuselage Automated Upright Build, or FUAB. The system was developed and secretly tested in Anacortes (WA), 40 miles north of the Everett plant where the 777 Classic is assembled.
FUAB is a major leap in robotic production, drilling the tens of thousands of holes in the 777 fuselage through automation rather than touch labor. It’s faster, more accurate, safer and should reduce workman injuries and claims.
Although The Seattle Times reported a fair amount of teething troubles as FUAB was implemented on the 777 Classic, the introduction on this airplane was intended to work through these issues and de-risk production application to the 777X.
The 777X is also the first airplane for which Boeing produces composite wings. Those on the 787 were out-sourced. Boeing went through a very painful period with the industrial partner. As a result, officials decided to bring the wing back in-house for the 777X.
Like FUAB, automation is the key at the wing factory. The first wing entered production in November 2016.
The billion-dollar factory was built specifically for the 777X, but it has excess capacity. The 777X wing program lays the foundation for the wings for the NMA—and later, the New Small Airplane, the replacement for the 737.
The deal by which Airbus agreed to buy 50.01% of the C Series program, followed by plans for Bombardier to build a Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Mobile (AL), next to Airbus’ A320 FAL, is already transforming the aerospace industry.
In one move, Airbus filled the bottom end of the single aisle market that it was already losing. The A319neo has sold fewer than 60 aircraft and most of these probably will be up-gauged to the A320neo. For no money down—it paid only US$1 for the C Series interest and has no liabilities for the FAL construction or the first $700m in other costs—Airbus gained access to the latest in technology incorporated into the C Series.
This will be useful when Airbus designs the next new airplane.
The deal also denies the Chinese, who repeatedly sniffed around the program, access to the technology, no small consideration.
Boeing predictably dismissed and dissed the Airbus-Bombardier deal. Weeks later, news emerged that Boeing and Embraer were engaged in merger talks.
Embraer doesn’t bring the same level of product line to Boeing that C Series does to Airbus. The E195-E2 seats only 120 passengers in two-class configuration, below the redesigned Boeing 737-7 MAX’s 138.
Ordinarily this would be a nice step-up, but the 7 MAX is a dead duck. Fewer than 70 have been sold, for reasons having nothing to do with the C Series. The 7 MAX’s original design had 126 passengers in two class.
There have been 65 E195-E2 sales, with six fewer seats.
The 737-7 in its original form and the redesign are sub-optimal aircraft. But 737 operators prefer the larger 737-8.
Even launch customer of the 7 MAX, Southwest Airlines, appears to be moving away from the 7 MAX. It just deferred 23 of 30 orders for four years, ordering instead 40 8 MAXes. Just how many of these 23 Southwest ultimately takes now is a real question.
The launch of the A321neo Plus, the NMA and consummation of the Airbus-Bombardier and Boeing-Embraer deals are events to watch for this year.
Boeing’s 777X production gets underway this year. The success of its step-changes will be closely watched as well.
“Transformations” is the watchword this year.
Airfinance Journal adopted this as the theme of all its conferences this year, beginning with the 20th Annual Dublin event Jan. 23-25. I’ll be presenting on the topic of Transformations. The agenda may be found here.
Separately, the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance also adopted the theme, Managing Transformation, for its annual conference Feb. 12-14 in Lynnwood (WA). Information about this conference may be found here.
Airfinance Journal and Leeham Co. have organized the first Southeast Aerospace and Defence Conference, which will be held June 25-27 in Mobile (AL). The theme: Building for the Future in an Era of Transformation. Information about this conference may be found here.