Odds and Ends: Airbus’ frustration over A350 fallout–blame yourself; DC-10 grounding retrospective

Airbus’ frustration: Airbus says it has a Plan B for its lithium ion battery design and the CEO says he’s frustrated over the attention the A350 is getting as a result of the Boeing 787 issues.

Airbus has only itself to blame for any frustration: it’s stonewalling all questions about the design and fire protections of its lithium-ion batteries. The absence of answers from Airbus leads to the conclusions that it doesn’t have fire suppression as it’s commonly thought of.

Boeing remarked after the JAL fire that thermal runaway can’t be suppressed with in-flight fire fighting techniques. The presentation we detailed from Airbus makes it clear Airbus has the same conclusion. Although Halon can be used to suppress small fires, a thermal runaway can only be suppressed by water, and plenty of it. It took firefighters more than an hour to put out the blaze on the JAL airplane, according to the NTSB timeline.

The Airbus slides suggest there is Halon designed into the A350 and we are told the design has venting that the Boeing design does not. But Airbus won’t say what its design is. Does it take the containment approach The Seattle Times wrote about in connection with Cessna? Airbus won’t say. But we know from a well-placed source that venting overboard is part of the Airbus design.

See KING 5’s report below-Boeing is working on its own Plan B.

“We have a robust design,” Reuters quotes Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier. “I’m not going to give any lessons to Boeing. At the same time, I don’t have to take any either, when I think we have done well and have a plan which allows me to have aircraft flying with batteries that don’t catch fire,” he said, according to Reuters.

We find this second statement to be a load of crap. Where safety begins, rivalry should end. For the good of the industry, Airbus ought to share its thoughts with Boeing. The rivalry perpetrated between the two companies is often childish (both sides are guilty of this) and unworthy of two world-class companies. We find the statement above to be appalling.

Airbus has told us its battery-from a different supplier than that of Boeing’s-meets FAA standards, something that weren’t in place when Boeing selected the lithium-ion batteries in 2007. The FAA issued Special Conditions for Boeing’s use of the new technology batteries.

Aviation writer Christine Negroni has a post that expresses a great deal of frustration with Boeing’s corporate attitude toward the lithium ion issue. Frustration seems to be catching. But Airbus has the opportunity here to take the high road for safety and share its approach with Boeing–and to assure the aviation world publicly that its airplane will be safe.

Bregier says his design is safe and there’s a Plan B if regulators say more is needed. Tell us what is safe about the design and tell us what Plan B is.

Meanwhile, KING 5 (NBC-Seattle) has further information on Boeing’s Plan B, which is to build a containment box around the battery (similar to the Cessna approach).

DC-10 Grounding: The last time the FAA grounded a commercial airliner was in 1979, when American Airlines lost a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Aviation Week linked its report at the time and we link this article here.

Space Shuttle: The Seattle Times has a story about the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart 10 years ago. It’s interesting reading.

American to firm up 787 order, add two 777s and firm up MAX

American Airlines will firm up 42 orders for the Boeing 787, its 737 MAX order and add two 777 orders upon bankruptcy court approval, according to an SEC filing today.

American’s plans to acquire 75 787s had always been contingent on a new pilot contract–which has come through the bankruptcy process. The MAX orders, placed in July 2011, also were never firmed up due to the bankruptcy filing the next month.

Two new 777 orders were unconnected to the 787 and MAX orders.

From the SEC filing:

The Restructured Aircraft Purchase Agreements will provide for certain concessions and savings to American in connection with the acquisition by American of the 737 aircraft, the 787 aircraft and aircraft spare parts. The Restructured Aircraft Purchase Agreements will also provide for the substitution of up to 20 787-8 aircraft for 787-9 aircraft, an accelerated delivery schedule for the 787 aircraft with deliveries scheduled to commence in November 2014 and to continue in each calendar year through September 2018, and the confirmation of the purchase of the Boeing 787 aircraft, which previously had been subject to certain reconfirmation rights.
Under the Restructured Aircraft Purchase Agreements, as of January 31, 2013, American will have firm aircraft orders for 111 737 aircraft, 18 777 aircraft and 42 787 aircraft, with the option to purchase 40 737 aircraft, 13 777 aircraft and 58 787 aircraft.
MAX Aircraft Purchase Agreement. The Restructuring Agreement further provides that, upon approval by the Court, American will enter into a definitive purchase agreement (the MAX purchase agreement) pursuant to which American will acquire 100 MAX aircraft, equipped with new, more fuel efficient engines. The MAX purchase agreement will constitute the definitive purchase agreement contemplated by and will supersede the agreement entered into by American and Boeing on July 19, 2011 (the 2011 MAX order) that provided for the commitment of American to purchase such MAX aircraft (referred to in the 2011 MAX order as 737RE aircraft). The 2011 MAX order was subject to a number of contingencies, including the parties entering into a definitive purchase agreement and Boeing’s approval of the launch of the Boeing 737 re-engined aircraft program, which was approved in August 2011. Under the MAX purchase agreement, the MAX aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in each of the years 2018 through 2022. In addition, under the MAX purchase agreement, American will have the option to purchase 60 additional MAX aircraft in the years 2022-2025.

Odds and Ends: PNAA Aviation Conference; AA-US merger review; UAVs in USA; SPEEA-Boeing; 2013, Part 2

PNAA Conference: The Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance holds its annual conference Feb. 12-14 in Lynnwood (WA), north of Seattle. This event is now the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest and the first or second largest of its kind on the West Coast. The top airframe manufacturers present, along with key aerospace analysts (including the ever-entertaining Richard Aboulafia) and key suppliers. There is a Suppliers Fair and this year for the first time a focus day on the airline industry. Follow PNAA @pnaalliance on Twitter.

American-US Airways merger review: This should be concluded within weeks, says AMR CEO Tom Horton.

UAVs in USA: Rules on the use of UAVs within the US are emerging and vary widely throughout the world.

SPEEA and Boeing: A reminder that SPEEA contract negotiations resume with Boeing next week on January 9. Based on conversations with SPEEA, we don’t expect things to go well. SPEEA told us–and pretty much anyone else–that it believes the gap between it and Boeing is so wide that it expects talks to break off quickly. A strike vote will follow and a target date for a strike is February 1. SPEEA filed another Unfair Labor Practice complaint this week over Boeing taking pictures of SPEEA marchers at the Everett plant.

The year ahead, Part 2: Earlier we posted our Leeham.net look at 2013. Here’s what we did for CNN.com, in a somewhat broader look.

APA speaks about potential American-US Airways merger

From the Allied Pilots Association leadership to its membership:

Fellow pilots,

The APA Board of Directors reconvened today at 9 a.m. at union headquarters as part of the ongoing four-party negotiations between American Airlines and US Airways management, APA and the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA) on behalf of US Airways’ pilots.

These negotiations are aimed at reaching a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), or interim agreement, to address each pilot group’s respective concerns if the two carriers proceed to merge. The MOU would serve as the transition agreement and would also include improvements to our newly ratified collective bargaining agreement.

Some have suggested that the only way APA should “agree” to a merger is to first negotiate an integrated seniority list with USAPA. Major corporate mergers involving represented employee groups don’t work that way. No legal mechanism exists that would allow union-represented employees to interfere with a major transaction such as a merger. With McCaskill-Bond the law of the land, unless management predicates a merger on an integrated seniority list—much as we saw at Southwest in their acquisition of Air Tran–we are left to pick up the pieces after the merger has occurred.

While APA’s institutional position has consistently been one of support for a merger between the two carriers within bankruptcy, support for a merger at this juncture is not unanimous within the union. Likewise, AMR management has not embraced the concept of expediting a merger before restructuring concludes and clearly wants to retain control of the corporation and consider a merger on their terms following exit from bankruptcy. Keep in mind that AMR management has executed four different mergers—beginning with Trans Caribbean and ending with TWA—while completely disregarding the impact on our pilots’ seniority. I doubt that pilot seniority is anywhere near the top of their concerns right now. Likewise, I doubt that  pilot seniority would be a key consideration if they were to execute a merger with US Airways, JetBlue or any other carrier following an independent exit from bankruptcy.

Instead, what we’re seeing is likely a deliberate attempt to sew fear amongst our pilots in an effort to derail consensual merger talks. A small group of pilots, with assistance from AMR management and a former CEO [here and here], has been advancing the notion that an integrated list should be a precondition to any further consideration of a merger. Their motives are crystal clear: hold on to the reins of power and control any merger on their terms. To be clear, fundamental capital transactions such as a merger involve a large number of parties. By virtue of the 13.5 percent equity stake we now hold as part of our ratified agreement, APA can exert influence over various aspects of a merger as a major stakeholder in AMR. However, we don’t have the ability to stop the clock and make everyone else wait while we sort through all of the issues associated with an integrated seniority list. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous, and simply ignorant of the law and the facts.

Our advisers have indicated that if we do not finalize an MOU in the very near future, in all likelihood there will be no merger before American Airlines exits restructuring. An MOU specifying wages and working conditions for the pilots, along with interim seniority protection in the form of fences, would enable creditors to identify synergies that would result from a merger of the two carriers. Absent an MOU, the financial benefits of a merger would remain unclear.

We all understand that seniority is extremely important to our careers. Of course, your seniority number is irrevocably tied to the airline you work for, so it’s likewise critical for your employer to be able to compete and thrive. The analysts who study our industry and make judgments about which airlines are best positioned in the marketplace have been virtually unanimous in the view that a merger with US Airways represents the best way to address our airline’s current deficiencies. Make no mistake—a merger of some sort is inevitable. The questions before us: Who do you want at the helm and do you want the ability to have some control over the process? In a post-bankruptcy merger, we would have little ability to influence any potential leadership changes at American Airlines and would represent nothing more than a speed bump.

It’s worth revisiting some of the reasons why the APA leadership decided several months ago that despite the inherent difficulties, a merger with US Airways represents the best path to a reinvigorated American Airlines and, by extension, a brighter future for us all. With the mergers of Delta-Northwest and United-Continental, American Airlines now stands at a distant third (and, by some measures, fourth in the U.S. industry) in terms of our revenue base and route network. A merger with US Airways is essential for both carriers and represents the quickest way to recapture the critical mass essential to competing effectively with those two carriers.

We have seen a model for a successfully arbitrated seniority integration at Delta-Northwest using fences and a ratio methodology based on a percentile seniority list ranking. Also, if an American Airlines-US Airways seniority integration were to be arbitrated, our attorneys have indicated that the ongoing seniority dispute between “West” and “East” at US Airways would be settled as part of the process and should not have any negative impact on an arbitrator’s decision under the McCaskill-Bond statute.

Many analysts believe that American Airlines finds itself in its present predicament because of an excessively cautious approach to consolidation during the past several years. Instead of vigorously pursuing Northwest Airlines as a remedy to American Airlines’ deficiencies in the Asian network, they sat on the sidelines as the rest of the industry flew by. How much longer should we wait before deciding that something needs to happen to fix American Airlines’ revenue and network disparities? Merging within bankruptcy also affords APA opportunities to “re-attack” sooner rather than later to capture additional contractual value in the form of a transition agreement/MOU for our members. On the other hand, a “wait and see” approach would ensure that American Airlines exits Chapter 11 restructuring as an independent carrier with our newly ratified contract. At that point we would have no mechanism for making any near-term contractual improvements, and little ability to influence the management structure or strategic direction of the corporation.

If the four parties agree to an MOU/transition agreement, we would proceed to the next phase of the process, which would involve the creditors assessing the financial benefits of a merger. If a merger meets with their approval, a series of additional steps would have to occur before a merger is approved and the new company exits restructuring, including consideration by the two companies’ boards of directors; antitrust review by the federal government; and approval of a plan of reorganization by the Unsecured Creditors’ Committee and the bankruptcy court.

Upon exit from restructuring, an application for single-employer status with the National Mediation Board must be made, which would take approximately six months. Once single-employer status is declared, we would go through a process to determine the bargaining agent for the pilots. After that we would begin negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement (JCBA), which would focus primarily on reconciling and integrating the US Airways pilots into the American Airlines operation. This JCBA must be completed within 24 months of a plan of reorganization being approved. If not, it would be submitted to binding arbitration for any remaining open items. Seniority integration negotiations would then commence. In the interim, we would operate in accordance with the protections stipulated by the MOU, including fences and provisions to ensure that pilots on the American Airlines seniority list would operate any aircraft delivered as part of the previously announced aircraft orders.

Fellow pilots, we understand your keen interest in the ongoing MOU negotiations, and we will continue to provide updates as developments warrant.

Thank you for remaining engaged in determining our collective futures.

In unity,

Keith Wilson

First Officer Dennis Tajer

Allied Pilots Association (APA)
APA Industry Analysis Committee – Chairman
APA Communications Committee

2012’s Most Momentous event: were readers correct?

A year ago we asked the following question and received the results. Now that 2012 is all but over, do you agree with your own forecasts?

What is the most momentous event you predict for 2012?

Answer Percent
Boeing doesn’ t ramp of 787 as expected 28%
Airbus slips its schedule for the A350 23%
Boeing meets ramp up expectations for the 787 12%
Airbus stays on schedule with the A350 11%
US Airways makes a bid for American Airlines 10%
Bombardier has first flight of CSeries by year end 9%
American Airlines tells US Airways to sniff its own exhaust 4%
Bombardier’s first flight for CSeries slips into 2013 2%

Odds and Ends: E-190 v Superjet v BBD in Russia; China’s aviation; WestJet’s speed dating; Crandall speaks

E-190 v Superjet v Bombardier: With the finding that the pilot of the demo flight of the Sukhoi SSJ 100 Superjet simply flew into a mountain in Indonesia, rather than there being a problem with the airplane, the cloud has been lifted from the aircraft. So the direct match-up of the SSJ vs the Embraer E-190 can now be compared and this article does so. Bombardier’s CRJ-900 and CRJ-1000 also compete.

China’s Aviation: Airbus and Boeing think China pose the greatest threat in the future, but this analyst is less enthusiastic.

WestJet of Canada: The low cost carrier took a bold step to order up to 45 Bombardier Q400s to feed itself. Now it’s using speed dating to decide where to fly the airplanes.

Crandall speaks on AA-US merger: Former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall weighs in on the merger between American Airlines and US Airways.

American to decide on merger Jan. 9, Bloomberg says

American Airlines’ Board of Directors will meet on Jan. 9 to decide whether to merge with US Airways, according to this report by Bloomberg News.

The outcome, of course, has ramifications beyond those employees of both airlines. These include, in no particular order:

  • A shift in the oneworld and Star Alliances. US Airways is part of the Star Alliance, though its route system is hardly a key part. Since US says it will adopt the AA name, look for US to move into the oneworld alliance. An AA-US merger strengthens AA’s East Coast reach, but other than this we’ve not seen a great deal of routes that US brings to AA. On the other hand, AA brings a lot more to US.
  • Airports will see revisions to facilities as both airlines consolidate.
  • Some cities will see reductions in service as duplications are eliminated.
  • If the US management is the one that emerges in charge (as we hope), then this will be a major plus for the future of the new American Airlines. If AA’s management is the survivor, we’re much less sanguine about AA’s future.
  • Airbus and Boeing should both benefit. Before bankruptcy, American placed orders for hundreds of current generation A320s and 737NGs as well as the re-engined models. US has a large order for A320ceos and A330s, but no A320neos. American’s fleet replacement need is so large that it probably needs both single-aisle OEMs. We could see some adjustment in the orders, which never were firmed up, and taking into account the US outstanding orders. But we’d be surprised if the new AA were to cancel entirely American’s Airbus or Boeing orders.
  • Nor do we see US canceling its A350 orders in favor of AA’s outstanding 777 order. US is one of the remaining A350-800 customers and this might be upgraded to the A350-900. But we think there was a fair chance of this happening anyway.

Airbus, Boeing battle for US MAX-NEO market share

With the announcement by Alaska Airlines for 20 737 MAX 8s, 17 737 MAX 9s (and 13 Next-Generation 737-900ERs), Airbus and Boeing continue their battle for the US market.

There are still a number of customers who have not ordered either aircraft. US Airways has been exclusively an Airbus customer. Airbus lost a hard-fought battle to Boeing in the competition for the A321-737-900ER order. ILFC orders seem to be on hold pending its Initial Public Stock offering.

737 MAX A320neo No Order Yet
American* Spirit Airlines US Airways
Aviation Capital Group** Frontier Airlines Delta Air Lines
Southwest Airlines jetBlue
United Airlines American*
Air Lease Corp Aviation Capital Group
GECAS CIT Aerospace
 Alaska Virgin America
*To be affirmed in bankruptcy court**Commitment, not yet converted to firm order  ILFC

Odds and Ends: A350 launch aid; strike at Bombardier biz jets; Embraer demand off; EADS-BAE

A350 Launch Aid: The US Trade Rep says it has the documents outlining $4.5bn in launch aid for the Airbus A350, according to a Reuters story. Predictably, Boeing and the USTR have gone in to overdrive. The A350 was excluded by the WTO from the long-running trade dispute because it wasn’t included in the original complaint filed in 2004–which is kind of obvious since the program didn’t surface until 2006. But Airbus contends that launch aid wasn’t ruled illegal in the WTO findings, just how it was implemented. Airbus contends that any launch aid for the A350 is structured in compliance with the WTO rulings of the 2004 case. The US contends launch aid itself is illegal. Whether it is or it isn’t, we don’t like launch aid or any other form of corporate welfare (see Boeing 787) and we don’t think a solvent company like Airbus (or Boeing) should be getting any.

Bombardier strike at Lear Jet unit: Machinists voted to strike at Bombardier’s Lear Jet unit. BBD hardly needs this. With cash flow demands peaking as the CSeries development enters the final stretch, and with demand for regional airliners off, this is an unneeded headache.

Embraer Demand: Wall Street analysts were pretty unhappy following the Embraer investors day last week. EMB gave no signs of willingness to cut production next year. There are 100 slots and only about 75 orders, with few in sight. Backlog is shrinking. EMB is hoping to land big orders from either Delta Air Lines or American Airlines for the E-Jet, but we’re not aware of any Delta campaign (and in any event, the airline favored the CSeries in the aborted campaign of a year ago). American is in such disarray there is no telling when, or if, it will pursue an order.

EADS-BAE: Bernstein Research doesn’t think this merger should happen. The excerpt from a note issued today:

We believe that it would be best for both companies if this proposed merger does not happen. But, we see the merger as worse for EADS than for BAE. Both companies describe scale as an advantage (e.g. better leverage of R&D), but we have never seen scale in itself as an advantage. Specific issues are:

– Shareholder interests. EADS shareholders typically own the stock as a play on commercial aircraft OE growth through Airbus. Increasing the scale of defense assets, with some in particularly challenging markets, is likely to take some investors out of the stock. We find BAE Systems shareholders as generally focusing on the high dividend. The combination with EADS, which does not pay a high dividend, places the current BAE Systems dividend level at risk in 2014. The disclosure of merger discussions also raises questions about the sustainability of cash flow and the divided, as we have found investors questioning why BAE would accept the EADS offer if its cash outlook were robust. BAE Systems CEO Ian King has countered this by stating (with EADS CEO Tom Enders) that this deal is “borne out of opportunity, not necessity”.

– Synergy potential. We view the potential synergies between EADS and BAE Systems as low given very little overlap between their businesses and restrictions in technology transfer from US programs. From an EADS standpoint, we expect that this combination would result in a stronger international marketing organization, provide some limited cost savings in indirect personnel and sourcing, and provide some improvement for the defense electronics portion of EADS’ Cassidian business (only about 2 billion euros in revenue). But, given the limitations in capturing these synergies and their relatively small size, we do not see them as justifying a merger of this scale. For EADS, this is particularly true, since it would pay a premium for BAE shares and be buying into some particularly difficult market exposure (e.g. US Army equipment, defense IT/services). In addition, we see disruption as inevitable in a deal of this size, as it could lead to a loss of some key personnel, changes in government relationships, and problematic integration steps (e.g. IT Systems), even though the overlap is relatively small.

Bob Crandall assesses the situation at American

Following our post yesterday about American Airlines, Terry Maxon, the aviation reporter for The Dallas Morning News and one of our oldest friends in this business, sent us this link to a long letter Robert Crandall wrote to an American pilot.

Crandall, of course was the hard-charging CEO of American for many years. Ever the straight shooting, Crandall has some forthright opinions.

One we disagree with, however, is his defense of Tom Horton. Crandall notes that Horton had been CEO (at the time of Crandall’s letter) for only 10 months and should be given a chance. We note, though, that Horton was CFO from March 2006 before his elevation to CEO 5 1/2 years later. He shares in the decisions made during this time and the responsibility for them.

Crandall absolutely right in his critique of the pilot actions involving sick-outs and frivolous maintenance write-ups, leading to massive delays and cancellations. This drives customers away. We’re a million-miler on American and right now any time we travel, it’s not on American. The pilots are acting like those at Eastern Airlines in their battle with Frank Lorenzo, the scourge of unions at the time. (The International Association of Machinists also engaged in open warfare with Eastern.)

Eastern’s pilots and mechanics destroyed that airline. They would rather have killed Eastern than work with Lorenzo, or in the case of the IAM local, even his predecessor, Frank Borman.

What the pilots at American are doing today is threatening the airline. Some Wall Street analysts are talking about American entering Chapter 7 liquidation, a view with which we so far disagree.

But it’s also clear that Horton and his team are giving short shrift to a possible merger with US Airways if they aren’t the surviving management. The future of American’s thousands of employees is at stake. Management ego shouldn’t be involved.

Aside from Crandall’s defense of Horton, we agree with his critiques.