Airbus’ disadvantages in widebody campaigns

Airbus’ problem

Airbus has a big problem. Its widebody airplanes are exclusively powered by Rolls-Royce and airlines running competitions right now between Airbus and the competing Boeing 787 have real doubts about the A330neo and A350 as a result.

These doubts generate from the well-known durability and reliability issues of the Trent 1000s that power some of the 787s.

Due to technical issues, up to 50 Trent 787s were grounded at one time across the globe. ETOPS was restricted.

It will take several years before all the fixes are in. Rolls-Royce already has spent more than £1bn in fixes and customer penalties, with no end in sight.

Airlines have had to lease in aircraft to cover the grounded 787s: A330-200s/300s, Boeing 747s and Boeing 777-200ERs.

The airline managers are furious. Some, considering follow-on orders for the 787, are prepared to switch to the GEnx engine. The GEnx, while not without its own difficulties (icing issues), nevertheless has proved more reliable than Rolls’ Trent.

Current campaigns

Which brings us back to current widebody campaigns.

The A330neo is powered by the Trent 7000, which is little more than the Trent 1000 with bleed air. Although based on the Trent 1000 TEN, one airline considering the neo, which operates the Trent 787, told LNC that even the TEN is showing problems.

This raises questions over the A330neo’s Trent 7000 future reliability, this airline said.

The operating economics of the A330-900 vs the 787 are about on a par, this carrier said. But the 787 can be ordered with the GE engine and, of course, commercial terms will ultimately drive the order.

In another campaign in which the A350 is facing off against the 787, the issue isn’t about the engine, per se. The Trent XWB has had a flawless entry into service and it’s meeting or exceeding performance promises.

The issue is Rolls-Royce.

This airline also has Trent 787s and is royally pissed off at Rolls-Royce, not only for the AOGs (Aircraft on Ground) but RR’s overall response to the problem, which airline officials rate as poor.

The airline is willing to switch to GE 787s.

Another challenge, without the engines

In a third campaign in which the airline’s name hit the public domain, Lufthansa is running a competition between Airbus and Boeing for a follow-on order for the A350-900 and the 787.

Lufthansa is operating the A350. It passed on the 787, so an order would add a new fleet type to the Lufthansa Group.

As the article reported, Lufthansa has orders and options for 34 Boeing 777-9s, but is considering deferring deliveries, which are scheduled to begin in 2020. (LNC reported this months ago.)

Boeing is mighty reluctant to defer the 777-9 from 2020, the first year the airplane is to enter service. But winning a 787 from Lufthansa and blocking a follow-on order for the A350 is also a mighty incentive.

The 777-9 deliveries can become a bargaining chip for Boeing—one that Airbus cannot match.

Not insurmountable

None of these issues is insurmountable for Airbus. But these are uphill challenges the OEM doesn’t need in an already fierce competitive environment.

Based on backlog-to-production plans, Boeing can’t deliver a 787 until 2022 unless some skyline swaps are made.

With Airbus facing the likely cancellation of its A350 orders from financially ailing Etihad Airways, it has A350s available as early as next year.

Near-in A330neo slots are also available.

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