Failed bail-out bad news for aviation

The collapse of the $700 billion bailout of the US financial system is bad news for aviation.

The capital markets were already driving up pricing on debt and driving out many lending institutions from the aviation market. Airbus and Boeing downplayed the declining credit markets (our conversations with them being about two weeks ago, before things really began to go south). Each believed that money to finance airplanes was available, albeit more expensive, and that neither would have to step up to provide backstop financing until the second half of next year. Part of this is the large segments of their respective order backlogs that are eligible for export credit financing backed by the European and US governments. In Boeing’s case, the company has said on several occasions that about 83% of its backlog may be financed by the US Export-Import Bank. We don’t have a figure for Airbus, but we believe that most of its backlog is similarly eligible for the European Credit Agency (ECA) financing.

Based on the information we had at the time, we generally agreed. But not now. ExIm or ECA or not, there still have to be viable banks and general market liquidity available for the credit agencies to provide guarantees for the funding.

The situation has changed so dramatically in just the last seven days that we are now concerned there will quickly be a financing crisis for the airlines. In this respect, the airlines may just decide that the longer a Boeing strike the better.

Our colleagues at Commercial Aviation Online, the finance-oriented publication of the Flight Global family, paints a dire picture emerging in aviation finance in our conversations with them. (We write for CAO as well.) But they are still constructing their stories, and we’re obligated to me ambiguous at this stage. Furthermore, it’s a paid-subscription service, so while we’ll be able to synopsize stories when the time comes, we won’t’ be able to fully reproduce them here. But the bottom line is that things are going south faster than anyone believed in aviation finance.

Update, September 30: Bloomberg News has this short item about customers for Embraer having difficulting financing the planes that were ordered. Brazil, like the US, Europe and Canada (for Bombardier), offers export financing support, too.

Update, 11:45 AM PDT: Commercial Aviation Online posted its story. (Paid subscription required.) Here are some excerpts:

With no US bailout package on the table, the aviation finance market remains frozen unable to make sound decisions in an uncertain climate.

“Right now, there is no interbank lending and banks are hoarding cash. Most bankers are putting off any decisions because there are no good decisions right now,” says a London-based banker.

He adds: “It is hard to say anything concrete right now except that if the current crisis continues, we are in big trouble. However, even with a US bailout don’t expect a panacea. What we are seeing now is what happened to the Japanese banks. It will take five to ten years to get out of this mess.”

Due to uncertain market conditions, a number of aviation deals that are currently in the works are likely to be renegotiated.

“No one wants a RFP right now. Everything is being delayed and many deals will have to be revisited,” says another banker.

Politics continue on the tanker

(Special projects precluded us from updating last week, so some of the links below backtrack into then.)

Politics continue to plague the tanker program even though the Bush Administration has punted the decision to the next presidency. Today we play catch-up with selected stories of interest.

Update, September 26:

Inside Defense reports that US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, says a split buy between Northrop and Boeing is the only way to recapitalize the USAF tanker program any time soon.

Murtha generally has been supportive of Boeing’s KC-767 tanker proposal.

He’s added language to the 2009 defense appropriations bill directing the DOD to study the feasibility of a split buy, Inside Defense reports. Murtha, according to the publication, acknowledged that Boeing and DOD don’t like the idea and he didn’t know if Northrop does, “But let me tell you something, we’re not going to have tankers if we don’t do that, I’m convinced,” Inside Defense quotes Murtha as saying.

Murtha predicted that in a re-compete, Northrop is likely to receive the order because its plane is ready to go.

Inside Defense is a paid-subscription service only but readers may register for free and receive three free articles (and then pay a la carte thereafter). This article may be found here, with the registration process the first thing you will see.

Update, September 25:

Be careful what you ask for. US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/Washington) announced that he’s inserted language in a new House bill to require the USAF or DOD to review any adverse ruling from the World Trade Organization on the “illegal” subsidies complaints filed by the US Trade Representative and the European Union against Airbus and Boeing. He has said for years that Airbus received “illegal” subsidies and presumes the WTO will back up the USTR complaint. Most objective observers, including us, agree with his biased viewpoint on this one.

But most objective observers, including us, also think the WTO will find Boeing received “illegal” subsidies as well–something Dicks and other Boeing supporters in Congress seem blind to.

The full House has to approve Dicks’ language (likely) and then the Senate has to agree (unlikely).

A decision by the WTO is overdue.

Update, September 24:

Mobile Press-Register: Gates against tanker split buy.

Aviation Week: DOD’s Gates eyed changes to RFP before canceling contract.

JD Crowe at The Mobile Press Register is at it again.

Update, September 23:

Associated Press: DOD Secretary Robert Gates says the next administration should buy the cheapest tanker.

Original post:

Washington Times: [Tanker] Rigged in Boeing’s favor. US Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Northrop/Alabama) writes in an Op-Ed piece that DOD’s decision punting the tanker to the next presidency was nothing more than a sop to Boeing.

JD Crowe at Mobile Press-Register

Business Week: Boeing’s CEO beat the Pentagon, but lost some, too. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney gambled in taking on the Pentagon over the tanker, and won.

Defense Industry Daily: A400M delays creating contract controversies. Airbus’ sole military program isn’t going too well. (We count the KC-330 as a broader EADS program; the A400M is Airbus.)

Washington Post: Defense buyer says Northrop’s bid was $3bn cheaper than Boeing. DOD’s John Young said the smaller KC-767 should have been cheaper to buy than Northrop’s KC-30–but it wasn’t. We say perhaps the US taxpayer was going to benefit after all from all those “illegal” subsidies alleged to be provided to Airbus.

Inside Defense: Flyoff will determine tanker win. The Air Force’s top buyer predicts a flyoff between Boeing and Northrop for the tanker contract. Inside Defense is a paid subscription service but with registration you can get three freebies, including this article.

Los Angeles Times. Northrop entitled to termination fee. The Pentagon says Northrop is due tens of millions of dollars for the canceled tanker contract.

What now for the tanker?

In today’s column we discuss the tanker, how much the IAM strike is costing Boeing every day and how long the strike may last.

Out of all the twists and turns in the seven year old effort to replace aging Boeing KC-135 aerial tankers, no one we spoke with predicted that the Department of Defense last week would dump the entire competition in the trash can. What happens next and what are the ramifications for Northrop, EADS, Boeing and the Air Force?

A full re-start by the Air Force/DOD on the competition will probably take anywhere from two-four years before a new contract is awarded. There would have to be a full reassessment by the Joint Requirement Oversight Council (JROC) and the Request for Information (RFI) process; the Defense Acquisition Board reviews and approval of the Request for Proposal; determination of the Source Selection Authority; and the actual evaluation process. Plus any additional appeals of the decision.

Could the new Administration, whether it is McCain or Obama, simply pick up more or less where the Bush Administration left off? We suppose that in theory it could but in practice it’s unlikely. Boeing has been very clear that it views any changed to the specifications for a larger airplane as requiring a compete re-start, and having won its political point and getting DOD Secretary Robert Gates to cancel the Northrop Grumman award, Boeing and its supporters are hardly likely to support anything absent a full do-over.

In the meantime, in what is a reversal of rhetoric by Boeing and DOD, both now take the position that the aging KC-135 tankers are good enough to last while the competition is re-run. Throughout the competition both originally took the position that there was great urgency to proceed with the tanker replacement program because the KC-135s were essentially ready to fall out of the sky. (A separate government-funded study took a different view, arguing there was plenty of life left in the airplanes.) After Boeing protested the Northrop award, Boeing’s spin shifted to “what’s the hurry? There’s plenty of life left in the KC-135s.” Boeing ought to know; it also has the maintenance contract on the KC-135 fleet.

Be that as it may, who are the winners and losers in the decision by Secretary Gates to punt this to the next Administration? Here’s our take:

Winners

  1. Boeing, its lobbying efforts, its Congressional supporters and Boeing’s labor unions. Boeing’s incredibly effective lobbying campaign certainly won the battle. But will it cost Boeing in the coming war? See Potential Losers.
  2. Boeing, also because it gets a third shot at the tanker contract in what will be Round 4 of the process (including the abortive re-bid that was just ash-canned).
  3. Boeing, because plans by Airbus to build the A330-200F in US-dollar based Alabama are put on hold. This will keep pressure on Airbus for the Euro-dollar exchange rate and complicates Airbus’ decisions over production for the A350.
  4. Washington State and Kansas. The KC-767, or if Boeing elects to offer a KC-777 and should it be selected, will be built in Washington and modified in Kansas. Gates’ decision keeps them in the game.
  5. The Taxpayers, if you believe Boeing’s assertions that Northrop’s KC-30 is too big, too costly, and will (essentially) bankrupt the USAF in 40-year life-cycle operating costs. (OK, Boeing didn’t actually make the bankruptcy claim but you get the drift.) Read more

Airbus: jobs and cost cutting

Airbus has hit the news this week with a series of stories about jobs and cost-cutting.

September 9:

International Herald Tribune: No job cuts, just more US$ purchases.

Reuters: From Tunisia, with love.

Business Week: Airbus seeks new cost cuts.

Forbes: Airbus aided by strong dollar.

Flight International: Airbus to offer A330HGW to take advantage of 787 delays.

What’s next at Boeing?

If the IAM didn’t have enough reason before to be concerned about out-sourcing, here’s another: Mitsubishi just announced it’s entered a deal with Boeing for its support in building the MRJ regional jet.

The so-called Japanese Heavy is an industrial partner with Boeing on the 787 program, building the composite wings. The 70-90 seat MRJ regional jet will have composite wings. Boeing is shying away from planes with less than 150 seats in the future. If the MRJ is a success, we think it likely Mitsubishi will grow the airplane up to 150 seats, particularly since Kawasaki Industries, another 787 partner, has announced plans to create a 100-150 seat jet.

From there it’s only another step to grow into 200 seat jets and a full family. It took Airbus 14 years to create a family and 34 years to have a full product line.

This is not good for American industry. And in our view, Boeing is creating its own future competitor.

Tanker update, 9/3

DOD Buzz has this interesting report on the prospect of a split buy for the tanker competition.

AFP, the European news agency, reports DOD/USAF officials are worried another tanker protest will be filed, no matter who wins Round Three.

Reuters has this report on a USAF general urging quick action.

Update, 12:50 PM PDT, Sept. 4: In true military fashion, it’s hurry up and wait–the final RFP for the tanker has been delayed another week, according to this report in The Hill newspaper.

Update, 4:45 PM PDT, Sept. 5: DOD has tough decision on tanker

Back to the tanker

A few interesting stories today on the USAF tanker saga:

Business Week: Boeing’s tanker challenge.

Reuters: US arms buyer faults Boeing. This story quotes a Jacques Gansler of the University of Maryland who now sits on the Defense Science Board. If memory serves correctly, Northrop Grumman partially funded a study at the U of M Gansler oversaw on the tanker. No mention of this is in the story.

Note: Be sure and check out updates to posts below on the 787 and the best-and-final offer.

Update, August 31:

The Tacoma News Tribune has this long analysis on the tanker and whether Boeing should press on.

And now about Airbus

Boeing has dominated the news in recent weeks because of the tanker and the IAM contract negotiations. At long last, here’s some news about Airbus.

The company is actively talking about stretching the A380-800 to a -900, 1,000 passenger version. A new intereview with Louis Gallois, CEO of Airbus parent EADS, looks at 2010 as when this program might be launched. The story is here. Meanwhile, delivery of Emirates Airlines’ second A380 is delayed.

For all those Airbus-Northrop critics who whine about the prospect Northrop (the prime contractor, let’s remember) won’t protect and honor US restrictions on selling the KC-30 or its components to nations hostile to US interests, here’s a Reuter’s story about how Airbus won’t sell airliners to Syria as long as sanctions are in place.

Pratt & Whitney shipped its P1000G Geared Turbo Fan engine to Airbus for installation on an A340 test bed, according to this Flight International story. Airbus is considering offering the GTF on its A320 family.

Update 8:40 AM PDT, Aug. 29: EADS says there are no current discussions underway with Syria for a large Airbus order. The operative word in the statement is “currently.”

Predictable and disappointing

Northrop Grumman’s opposition to granting Boeing’s request for a six month response time instead of 45-60 days for the re-bid on the KC-X competition is predictable and disappointing.

Boeing also threatened to no-bid the contract if it doesn’t get its way on the request.

As readers know, we have always felt the KC-30 was the more capable airplane for the KC-X than the KC-767 offered by Boeing. We’ve sided with Northrop on any number of issues during the competition. But not this one, as we opined on August 22.

Northrop believes that Boeing is stalling on the bet that the Democrats will increase their majorities in the House and the Senate in the November election, and that this will increase Boeing’s sympathy in Congress. We have no doubt this is part of the Boeing calculus. So what? EADS decided to locate the KC-30 production facility in Republican Alabama at a time when the Republicans controlled Congress. That was hardly a coincidence. Politics have permeated this process from the start and while there is plenty of reason to stop now, that’s not going to happen.

Boeing, in its political gambit, is taking a risk that falls into the “be careful what you ask for category,” however. While it seems certain Democrats will increase their majority in Congress, it’s hardly a sure bet today that they will win the White House. Sen. John McCain is giving Barak Obama a run for his money and if McCain wins, this won’t be good news for Boeing.

We see no harm in giving Boeing the six months. We think both sides will produce a better bid, and that’s good for taxpayers.

Meantime, Steve Trimble at Flight International has an interesting take on his blog about how the re-bid can flip-flop some of the suppliers.

Update, 09:15 AM PDT Aug. 26: Innovation Analysis Group does a six minute podcoast with an Israeli reporter discussing Israel’s plan to update its aerial tanker fleet. The air force could use the KC-135/707 for another 20 years if necessary, but it really wants to buy the same aircraft used by the USAF.

Update, 2:30 PM PDT Aug. 26: So far, no final RFP has emerged from DOD; it was thought that it might be issued yesterday. We’re picking up rumblings that it may not come out this week.

Update, 350 PM PDT Aug. 26: Reuters now reports the final RFP may be issued next week.

Update, 12:00 PDT, Aug. 27: The St. Louis Post Dispatch has this piece looking at the strategic implications of the tanker competition.

6 more months makes sense

(Updated 0730 AM PDT with references to EADS North America COO John Young and the “KC-35.”)

Giving Boeing six more months to come up with a revised bid is a prudent and reasonable thing to do. Here’s why.

  1. Why not? It gives the appearance of fairness and the fact of fairness. Besides, at the EADS media day immediately preceding Farnborough, EADS North American COO John Young predicted the process would take to March anyway. What’s three more months after that?
  2. Boeing and Northrop will have to “sharpen their pencils,” as DOD procurement chief John Young (no relation to the EADS-NA John Young) put it, and come up with a better price, benefiting taxpayers.
  3. Northrop and Boeing may sharpen the technical characteristics of the airplanes, providing a better product for the Air Force. We think a KC-777 is a non-starter–it’s just too big for the KC-X (it’s better suited for the KC-Y or KC-Z, as our chart on our Corporate Website this week shows). The 767-400 is the only logical alternative Boeing has to offer for the KC-X competition, even if it still falls short compared with the KC-30 (also see the chart). But what if Northrop responds with a KC-30 powered by the fuel-sipping GEnx engine? This cuts the KC-30 fuel consumption by 15%, providing a better life-cycle cost and thus benefiting the taxpayer. Airbus already did the analysis of an A330-powered GEnx airplane when it first proposed Version 1 of the A350. The GEnx is now certified for the 787, so certifying it for the A330 should be of little concern. We’ll call a GEnx-powered KC-30 the “KC-35.”
  4. Northrop could propose a “KC-33,” a tanker based on the larger A330-300, though we don’t think that’s necessary.
  5. Boeing’s “KC-764” could be proposed with the GEnx, which would improve the performance of the 767-400 as well as the fuel economy. NA KOA (remember them?) proposed such an airframe-engine combination as part of its response to the Request for Information from the Air Force at the start of Round Two of the competition, and it had been in touch with Boeing to partner with Boeing on such a project, so there is already some research completed on this. (NA KOA really wanted to offer a tanker based on the 747-400, readers will recall, and filed a protest with the GAO when Boeing refused to go along. The GAO dismissed that protest and last month dismissed NA KOA’s request for reconsideration.)
  6. Adding six months to the process won’t make any difference in the operation of the KC-135 fleet.

Giving Boeing another six months will likely produce better pricing, perhaps a better plane and perhaps better life cycle costs. DOD should grant Boeing’s request.

Update, 2:00PM PDT: IAG has a new podcast with Boeing IDS spokesman Dan Beck on the Boeing request for six more months.