June 20, 2023, © Leeham News: Here at the Paris Air Show in what is the first normalized show after the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of excitement is almost tangible.
There are predictions by some that when this week is over, more than 2,000 commercial airplane orders could be announced. This would match the heyday of orders in the 2010 decade.
Clearly, there is pent-up demand for new airplanes. Aging aircraft are part of the reason. A push toward more fuel efficient, and therefore more environmentally friendly airplanes is another reason. Full order positions, dating to 2026 for the Boeing 737 and to 2029 for the Airbus A320 is prompting some orders to “get in line.” Even widebody aircraft delivery slots are sold out for the next several years. So is the Airbus A220.
Embraer pulls up the rear with its E-Jet E2. Sales are hampered because the E-Jet family serves a shrinking market, the regional airlines. But Embraer, too, has had a flurry of recent orders.
Airbus and Boeing are talking openly about the next new airplane—Boeing more openly than Airbus. Their confidence is clear.
Alternative energy also takes a front seat at the show. Fuels, batteries, UAMs, eVTOLs, and more vie for attention.
To be sure, there are a number of cautionary notes being sounded. Number one is the inability of the supply chain to support demand. Labor, parts and production shortages plague the supply chain all the way down to the Tier 3, 4 and 5 companies. All it takes is the weakest link to break the chain and production can ground to a halt. These are residuals from the pandemic.
Achieving the lofty goal of net zero carbon by 2050, with some ambitious milestones in between, are challenging. Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) remains expensive, feedstock is a problem, production is in its infancy and costs are high. Hydrogen is similarly constrained, coupled with the need for entirely new infrastructure on top.
It is, of course, the talk about new airplanes that tickles the fancy. But even here, a note of skepticism is in order.
Stan Deal, the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, gave the strongest indication Sunday that Boeing is moving down the path toward its next new airplane in the form of the Transonic Truss Braced Wing (TTBW) design. David Calhoun, the CEO of The Boeing Co., in November and again last month pointed in this direction. But this remains a research project with NASA as Boeing and NASA convert an out0of-production MD-90 into a demonstrator project. This plane is due to fly in 2028.
Deal said Boeing is talking to CFM International, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce about an engine for the TTBW. He also said that at this time, customers indicate they’d like a choice of engines. CFM is pursuing the Open Fan RISE engine. PW and RR are pursuing conventional engines. If their claims are taken at face value, the Open Fan will have about a 5% fuel burn advantage over the other two. But the Open Fan technology still has its doubters.
Boeing historically, and famously, always works on parallel projects in case one doesn’t pan out. But nothing has been said by officials about a parallel conventional design. LNA doesn’t doubt there is such a project, however.
So, what will be the outcome? Only time will tell.
Airbus officials are open that they are developing new wing concepts (plural) and already have demonstrators on small aircraft. But they are coy about what these might go on. Publicly, their focus is on a hydrogen-powered airliner with a 2035 entry into service target date. But this will be a niche airplane, not a mass-produced aircraft that can succeed the A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX. So, from this standpoint, the H2 aircraft is not a broad-based Next Airbus Airplane.
Officials have been public about a stretched version of the A220. Commonly called the A220-500, which may not be the final name, officials say it’s when, not if, this airplane arrives. They did say it won’t be at this week’s air show, however.
But what will the plane be? Will it be a “simple stretch,” trading range for more capacity like the Boeing 7270-200 (standard) and 737-900 (standard)? This would have a revised engine, but not a new one. Or will it be something with a new wing and a new PW GTF engine and a choice with the CFM LEAP? Within Airbus, opinions are split.
What will be the answer? Only time will tell.
And so it goes with each new aircraft concept. There’s lots of excitement. But what will be real and what will fade by the wayside?
Only time will tell.