April 18, 2022, © Leeham News: The aviation industry is waiting to see what Boeing will do when it comes to a new airplane.
The Next Boeing Airplane (NBA), whatever form it takes, will largely be driven by what advances in engines are available. Boeing CEO David Calhoun downplays the engine element. He’s said repeatedly that the next engine will only have about a 10% lower fuel consumption than today’s powerplants. He didn’t today’s name engines, but the benchmarks are now the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan and CFM LEAP.
Calhoun places more emphasis on a moonshot in design and production advances to lower the cost of the airplane—with the theory the price paid by the customer will be lower as a result, providing a combined benefit of lower operating costs and lower capital costs.
PW agrees that by around 2030, the usual date (plus-or-minus a year or two) given for the NBA’s entry into service (EIS), it can get another 10% of improved fuel economy out of the GTF. CFM, on the other hand, is pressing ahead with what used to be called the Open Rotor concept. CFM now calls it an Open Fan. The company has a target EIS of 2035 and a fuel improvement of 20%. Emissions for the two engines would be reduced by roughly a corresponding amount vis-à-vis fuel burn.
Setting aside for today’s discussion the technical issues that still accompany the Open Fan installation, some at the airframers believe the drag-trade of the Open Fan could wipe out as much as 10% of the fuel economy. When the GTF and LEAP engines were installed on the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX, the drag trade was about 5%.
CFM’s goal is to retain the 20% improvement, even after installation. But the coordination and design synergy with the airframer will be key to doing so.
Rolls-Royce is developing new engines, called the Advance and UltraFan. But nagging technical issues with its Trent 1000 with the related, multi-year cost to fix them and compensation for customers, plus the collapse of the widebody market due to the COVID pandemic put huge pressures on RR’s ability to fund research and development.
RR launched the UltraFan and Advance development in 2014. Initially, the engines were being developed in part with the then-Boeing New Midmarket Airplane (NMA) for the Middle of the Market (MOM) in mind. Boeing targeted a 2025 EIS for the NMA, a date that all the engine makers said would be too soon for a new engine (2029 was their target date). Even some within Boeing knew 2025 was unrealistic, but that was the story and officials were standing by it.
In the meantime, RR’s Trent 1000 issues mushroomed. Problems with fan blades and other components caused some airlines to withdraw the 787s from ETOPS service. At one point, around 50 787s were grounded—and some groundings extended for more than two years. RR’s engine shops were swamped with Trent 1000s. The shops fell behind on the 1000s, as well as servicing Trent 700s and 900s used on Airbus A330s and A380s, respectively. Repair and replacement costs and customer compensation caused hundreds of millions of UK pounds in write-offs several times. RR withdrew from consideration from the NMA, saying it could not meet the 2025 EIS timeline.
Then, before the Trent 1000 issues could be fully dealt with, COVID hit. Hundreds of A330s, A350s, and A380s with RR engines were grounded as international traffic collapsed. (GE Aviation was similarly affected by the storage of Boeing 777s, 787s, and 767s. PW, by this time, was largely out of the “big engine” business already.)
The Next Boeing Airplane development, then in the form of a twin-aisle NMA, was suspended in January 2020 when Calhoun became Boeing’s CEO. He wasn’t a fan of the NMA anyway, but in January 2020, the MAX was still grounded with no end in sight. Boeing’s cash flow was sharply reduced. It was only natural for Boeing to suspend new development until the MAX returned to service.
But then the pandemic hit in March, followed by Boeing suspending delivery of the 787 in October. Eighteen months later, 787 deliveries are still suspended—and so is any new airplane program.
These events give Rolls-Royce time to develop its engines. But how much time?
Market talk suggests Boeing “must” launch a new airplane program in 2023 or 2024 with an EIS target of 2030-ish. But does Boeing see it this way? Officials aren’t saying. In January, the 777-8F cargo airplane program was launched, with a target EIS of 2027. (Some believe that given the uncertainty surrounding the certification of the 777X, the freighter EIS will likely slip to 2028 or 2029.)
Boeing needs to come up with a solution for the 767 freighter. Production must end in 2027 if Boeing doesn’t get an exemption from new environmental regulations that render the engines non-compliant. A 787 freighter might be the solution. Boeing has looked at this and the design was “protected” for a forward door installation. Product Development is working on Increased Gross Weight (IGW) versions of the 787-9 and 787-10. The 787-9IGW will would make a good successor to the 767.
If Boeing slots in a new passenger airliner after the 777-8F and potentially a 787-9F, a program launch could wait till 2024. Would RR have the money and resources to have an engine to offer Boeing by then? This is a good question. It’s too soon to know the answer.
Named to the Top 10 List of Aerospace Books for Christmas Choices, 2021
Puget Sound Business Journal
(Seattle area.) No. 1 on the Christmas list of aerospace books for 2021.
No. 1 on its list of Best New Aerospace eBooks to read in 2022.
Chris Sloan, The Airchive
“A worthy successor to ‘The Sporty Game,’” the 1982 book by John Newhouse, considered at the time to be the definitive book about the competition between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and the emerging Airbus.
Jim Sheehan, Aviation Industry Consultant
There is so much model and OEM information that it is for sure going to become required reading for anyone who wants to understand the last fifty or so years of commercial aviation.
Loved all of the quotes and stories.
Dan Catchpole, Aviation Writer
Air Wars is a tour de force look behind the curtain of Boeing and Airbus’ global competition and, in part, a biography of Airbus’ head salesman, John Leahy, the man who forced Boeing’s hand to re-engine the 737. Longtime aerospace analyst and journalist Scott Hamilton takes readers through the twists and turns of the decades-long battle between the two companies.
Dan Reed, Aviation Writer
Using John Leahy’s long and monumental career as a vehicle for telling readers about the 51-year battle between Airbus and Boeing is both an interesting and inspired choice by the author.