Pontifications: “We’re sick and tired of new technologies:” Avolon CEO

By Scott Hamilton

Editor’s Note: As Airbus and Boeing consider new airplanes, their current generation aircraft are plagued with technical issues. The engines on the A320neo and 737 MAX families continue to have problems years after entry into service. The Boeing 787, which had ground-breaking technology when it was designed, has production issues. Flight testing early on revealed technical problems with the engine on the 777X, prompting the president of Emirates Airline to publicly suggest he won’t accept delivery until the engines are fully “mature.”

Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast last week examined Boeing’s path toward a new airplane. Boeing CEO David Calhoun insists on waiting for new technology. But “new technology,” while in theory a great idea, the phrase also scares people. LNA reported on this in March 2020. We’re reposting this article from then.

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By Scott Hamilton

March 16, 2020, © Leeham News: “I can tell you from our perspective, we’re kind of sick and tired of new, new technology. It’s not proven to be the home run.”

This blunt assessment comes from the chief executive officer of the big aircraft lessor, Avolon.

Domhnal Slattery

Domhnal Slattery, the CEO, was giving his critique of whether Boeing should launch a new airplane once the 737 MAX crisis is over. (Update: Since this interview, Slattery retired from Avolon.)

Boeing was on a path to decide whether to launch the New Midmarket Airplane when the MAX was grounded one year ago this month.

Airbus was waiting for Boeing to move before deciding how to respond.

  • Airbus and Boeing should “stick to their knitting.”
  • Focus on incremental improvements for now.
  • 2030s to 2050s will be the next big advance in technologies.

Technology failures

New technology, while effective once bugs have been sorted out, proved problematic across several airframe and engine platforms. The disruptions caused headaches for airlines and lessors alike.

The Boeing 787’s leap for new composite technology and new industrial technologies were challenging. Design issues and delays plagued the program. The airplane was 3 ½ years late, upsetting schedules for airlines and lessors. The new engines, the GEnx and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000, still have problems nine years after entering service. Many 787s are grounded because of Trent engine problems.

It will take until 2021 or later for RR to fix the Trent.

In 2013, the 787 was grounded for three months after battery fires with the new-technology lithium ion batteries.

The Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan engines on the Bombardier C Series (now the A220) and the A320neo family had premature failures. The fundamental, new technology GTF architecture wasn’t the issue. The problems revolved around seals and parts of the core that are basically mature designs. But at one point, there were more than 100 A320neos stored without engines as PW tried to sort out the problems.

Like the Trent, it will be another year or two before the GTF is up to snuff.

The CFM LEAP engine on the A320neo and 737 MAX suffers from coking and other issues related to the very hot temperatures needed for higher fuel efficiency. On-wing time is well below was what planned, say engine experts.

The new GE9X for the Boeing 777X had a design issue that delayed first flight of the airplane by nine months.

No new airplane

Slattery urged Airbus and Boeing to “stick to its knitting” with the MAX and neo families.

The Big Two OEMs should “continue to iterate the half a percent or 1% improvements every year, that we’ve seen on airplane design or engine efficiency. Let the engine guys then put all of their time and effort and resources into a piece of technology that’s 15 years out.”

Slattery advanced an argument that Airbus makes: if Boeing launched an airplane program with an entry into service target of around 2028, Airbus could follow with an advanced technology model in the 2030 decade that would have even better economics and be more environmentally friendly.

“What’s the alternative [to waiting]?” Slattery asked. “You build an airplane that’s neither one thing, nor the other. From an efficiency perspective, if they decided to design it today, entry into service is six, seven, eight years from now. Meanwhile, Airbus will wait, and put a brand new airplane in six years later, and nobody will want to buy the Boeing product, because they’ll wait for Airbus.”

2030 decade

What technologies for the 2030 decade would be worth waiting for?

Airbus is focused on decarbonization designs. Electric and hybrid airplanes and eco-friendly fuels are another.

But Slattery, among others, doesn’t see electrically-powered airplanes, except for small ones, for another 30 years or more.

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