Aircraft Certification: How the Max crashes changed everything

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By the Leeham News Team

The Airbus A321XLR got caught up in the new aircraft certification environment created by the Boeing 737 MAX crisis. Source: Airbus.

July 18, 2024, © Leeham News: Much of the attention in the airline industry has recently been focused on the production issues faced by both major OEMs, Airbus (AB) and Boeing (BA). Supply chains are snarled, airlines had to re-jig their fleets, keeping less efficient aircraft in service longer than they planned and financial performance suffered.

LNA recently drilled down and detailed the long-term effects on Southwest Airlines, which is dealing with jet certification delays and must make do with a less-than-ideal fleet mix.

One of the overlooked aspects are the consequences of the Boeing 737 Max 8 accidents and subsequent Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 door plug blowout is the effect it is having on getting new, more efficient variants certified into service to replace older aircraft.

Both OEMs have been affected. Airbus had to push back the introduction of its A321XLR by about a year, but a detailed inspection by LNA reveals that Boeing is suffering more from the increased scrutiny of the FAA and Congress.

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To what extent can the A321XLR replace the Boeing 757, Part 3

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By Bjorn Fehrm

July 11, 2024, © Leeham News: We are comparing the Airbus a321XLR to the Boeing 757 to understand to what extent it can replace the 757 on the longer routes it operates for major airlines like United, American, and Delta.

We have looked at the development and operational history of the aircraft, their Apples-to-Apples capacity and range. Now, we use Leeham’s Aircraft Performance and Cost Model (APCM) to compare the operational costs of the aircraft.

Summary:
  • The Boeing 757-200 has the same passenger capacity as the A321LR/XLR and a larger cargo capacity.
  • Its range can compete with the A321LR but not the XLR. Both beat the 757 on operational economics.

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Boeing to plead guilty to new criminal charges related to MAX crisis

By Scott Hamilton

July 8, 2024, © Leeham News: Boeing agreed to plead guilty to new criminal charges related to the 2021 Deferred Prosecution Agreement that the US Department of Justice says the company failed to live up to.

By pleading guilty, Boeing avoids a trial. Some families of the 346 victims of two 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 already indicated they will object to this new agreement, which must be approved by a federal judge.

Boeing will pay a second fine of $243.6m, new conditions related to safety improvements (including spending at least $455m on new safety protocols) and a special overseer will be appointed to monitor Boeing’s compliance this time.

The second fine is identical to the first one in 2021. However, many—including LNA—view these fines as inadequate.

By comparison, previous DOJ Deferred Prosecution Agreements include larger fines for violations that did not include safety violations or deaths.

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To what extent can the A321XLR replace the Boeing 757, Part 2

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By Bjorn Fehrm

July 4, 2024, © Leeham News: We are comparing the Airbus A321XLR to the Boeing 757 to understand to what extent it can replace the 757 on the longer routes it operates for major airlines like United, American, and Delta.

After Boeing didn’t do the obvious 757 replacement, the NMA and Airbus gradually eked out more range and seats on the A321; the A321LR/XLR is the only game in town to replace the 757, especially as the Boeing 737-10 availability continuously slips to the right.

Summary:
  • The A321LR/XLR has the same passenger capacity as the 757-200.
  • The 757-200 has the range of the A321LR but can’t match the A321XLR.

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Boeing is fighting fire with fire in reacquiring Spirit Aero (Updated)

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By Dan Catchpole

Analysis

July 1, 2024, © Leeham News: This is an analysis of Boeing’s reported $4.7 billion purchase Spirit AeroSystems, as Reuters reported Sunday.

First, let’s set the frame.

Boeing seems incapable of doing anything right these days. Even a pre-Farnborough Airshow media briefing by the aerospace giant last week resulted in a reprimand from the National Transportation Safety Board for sharing information about its investigation into the panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight on Jan. 5.

The company is bleeding money in its commercial and defense divisions. Boeing could turn around its balance sheet if it could straighten out production for its cash cows—the 737 and 787. Yet somehow, both programs are still struggling.

Boeing’s pissed off the Federal Aviation Administration, the NTSB, key members of Congress, some of its biggest customers, and the Machinists union in Washington and Oregon, among others. Its current CEO is a lame duck who helped create the crises overwhelming the company. Potential successors have said they don’t want the job. Among the front-runners to succeed David Calhoun is BCA’s new CEO Stephanie Pope, who has no production or product development experience and has had few public appearances since she took over BCA in March. There are plenty more problems, but you get the point.

Spirit AeroSystems has been floundering since the COVID-19 pandemic threw the aviation industry into chaos. Since 2020, it has recorded $3.2 billion in net losses, including $617 million posted in the first quarter of this year. Boeing has helped keep the company afloat with financing and price changes.

In short: Boeing is fighting countless fires, and it just bought another one.

Can Boeing fight fire with fire?

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To what extent can the A321XLR replace the Boeing 757, Part 1.

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By Bjorn Fehrm

June 27, 2024, © Leeham News: The Airbus A321XLR, the extra-long-range version of the A321neo, will start operational service with IBERIA on the Madrid-Boston trans-Atlantic route later this year. It’s the type of thin, long-range route the Boeing 757 has served to date.

We will use our Aircraft Performance and Cost model (APCM) to examine to what extent the A321XLR can replace the 757 on world routes. What is the difference in capacity and range, and what improvement in operational economics can be expected?

Summary:
  • The Boeing 757 was the original MOM/NMA (Middle-Of-the-Market / New-Midmarket-Airplane).
  • It had unique characteristics, which Boeing would have followed up with the NMA project.
  • Boeing hesitated, and Airbus developed the A321XLR to fill this role. Has it succeeded?

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Boeing simply can’t afford a cash deal for Spirit AeroSystems

By Scott Hamilton

Analysis

June 25, 2024, © Leeham News: News that Boeing over the weekend wanted to acquire Spirit AeroSystems through a stock rather than a cash transaction should surprise absolutely nobody.

Anyone following Boeing’s financial performance and weak balance sheet could see this one coming.

Boeing’s financial condition is a mess. Frankly, it’s unfathomable that the credit agencies still rate Boeing as investment grade, albeit at the lowest level.

Boeing’s production rate is a mess and so is its quality control. There is no end in sight. There is not assurance when certifications of the 737-7, 737-10 and 779-9 will occur. Boeing apparently shifted engineers from its X-66A Truss Brace Wing project these programs, things are so bad. This shifts development of a new airplane to the right by at least two years.

When it comes to reacquiring Spirit, Boeing simply can’t afford to pay cash for the company, which at the close of the stock market yesterday had a market cap of $3.8bn+. Essentially, in our view, it’s the same reason Boeing walked away from the Embraer joint venture in April 2020: it could not afford the $4.5bn cash price tag. (The decision by an arbitrator of whether Boeing’s walk was justified is expected within the coming weeks or months.)

Boeing can’t afford to buy Spirit. We’re not sure Boeing can even afford to acquire Spirit in a stock swap. The  money required to bring Spirit into shape is unknown, perhaps even to Boeing.

This is a mess that keeps on giving.

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Aircraft production woes stretch far beyond Boeing

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By Judson Rollins

June 17, 2024, ©. Leeham News: Estimating airplane delivery rates isn’t much more than a guessing game nowadays.

While many headlines point fingers at beleaguered Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, aviation’s production woes are much more complex. Even in 2024, the labor shortage legacy of COVID-19 and raw material shortages exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war loom large over the industry.

Airbus struggles to deliver airplanes on time, and engine makers also see their deliveries constrained by supply chain issues.

Source: AFP via Aviation Week Network.

Summary
  • Boeing commercial production is far below advertised rates.
  • Airbus deliveries suffer from shortages of seats, other parts.
  • Embraer says deliveries would be higher without supply chain issues.
  • COMAC’s disruption opportunity is dampened by likely trade conflict.
  • Pratt and GE Aerospace slowly ramp up delivery of redesigned components.

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Freighter market faces turmoil while passenger sector gets the headlines

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By Scott Hamilton

June 10, 2024, © Leeham News: Delivery delays of widebody airplanes are causing disruptions in freighter conversion plans as feedstock is retained for passenger operations.

IAI Bedek Boeing 777-300ER P2F. Photo: IAI Bedek.

Demand for passenger airplanes also is slowing Airbus’ plans for the A350 freighter, according to market intelligence.

Softening of the cargo market since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic also impacts the immediate need for converting airliners to freighters, sources say.

Although Boeing’s delays with the 787 and 777X get most of the blame, Airbus also gets some credit for the A350 program. Already, say potential cargo airplane buyers, the A350 freighter is looking at a delay beyond the 2026 entry into service (EIS) date. Uncertainties among Middle Eastern carriers Etihad and Emirates over the A350-1000 Rolls-Royce engine durability are also causing officials to rethink retaining Boeing 777-200LRs and 777-300ERs in service.

Certification of the IAI Bedek 777-300ER freighter conversion program is taking longer than expected. The reason: the negative halo effect dating to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification crisis with the Boeing 737 MAX.

It took Boeing 21 months to recertify the MAX after its grounding began in March 2019. The MAX 7 and MAX 10 still aren’t certified and aren’t expected to be until sometime next year.

Certification of the 777X, also affected by the negative halo effect of the MAX crisis, isn’t certified. EIS was intended to be in 1Q2020. Boeing has yet to receive Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) from the FAA, one of the final steps required before certification. Boeing officially hopes certification will occur next year. But quietly some within Boeing now don’t think TIA will come until 1Q2025. Emirates and Lufthansa Airlines, the first scheduled operators of the airplane, openly say they don’t expect deliveries until 2026.

The upshot: feedstock of the 777-300ERs for conversion companies is drying up.

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The all-important cabin. Part 3

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By Bjorn Fehrm

June 6, 2024, © Leeham News: We do an article series about the all-important cabin and its seating for an airliner. We have looked at different narrowbody cabins and how the seating differs widely depending on the market and customer segments the aircraft addresses.

This week, we focus on why widebody aircraft have relatively low seat counts compared with single-aisle aircraft, like the A321neo.

We use the cabin generator in our Aircraft Performance and Cost Model (APCM) to configure widebody cabins and compare these with the narrowbody equivalents.

Summary:
  • The widebody cabins are configured for longer flight times, resulting in them taking more space.
  • When a widebody is configured for domestic flights, its seating per cabin area is closer to that of a narrowbody.

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