Odds and Ends: CSeries timeline; KC-46A roll-out; China’s new airplane

CSeries timeline: Bombardier last week announced a third delay in the CSeries program, this time for as much as a year.

This probably should have been expected. BBD originally planned a five year period between program launch and entry-into-service. As we saw with the Boeing 787, launched with a four year timeline, even five years was too ambitious.

CSeries Timelines. Leeham Co Chart

CSeries Timeline. Leeham Co Chart

The EIS period for the 787 turned out to be the standard seven years, almost eight–and even then, the EIS was anything but smooth.

Airbus’ launch-to-EIS for the final A350 version is somewhat more than eight years. Even though BBD is a sub-contractor on the 787 program and said it benefited from lessons learned, it’s clear officials were far too ambitious.

KC-46A roll-out: Boeing’s first tanker for the USAF based on the 767-200ER will roll out this summer. The Everett Herald has this story. The airplane is a somewhat revised 767-200ER called the 767-2C. In addition to upgrades with the airframe, the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines will have upgrades which improve fuel consumption.

China’s new airplane: China isn’t just developing the ARJ21, C919 and some military airplanes. It’s also developing the world’s largest amphibian.

Outsourcing focus of Boeing report, but misses bigger picture; IAM vote aftermath; Boeing’s 2013

A long article (10 pages when printed) discusses the pitfalls Boeing had by outsourcing so much work on the 787. This much is not new. The point the article raises–transferring technology and the potential decline of US aerospace dominance–isn’t especially new, either; we’ve written about this in the past.

What the article, however, overlooks is that Boeing isn’t alone in doing this. To certain degrees, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer also are guilty–as are a number of other OEMs and suppliers. CFM International, for example entered into a joint venture with the Chinese that would help them develop an modern commercial jet engine. Fortunately, CFM pulled back on this over concerns of technology transfer.

Airbus has an A320 assembly line in Tianjin, China, and Embraer had an ERJ-145 assembly line in the PRC. McDonnell Douglas had an MD-80/MD-90 line in Shanghai.

Bombardier contracts with Chinese companies to produce the Q400 and CSeries fuselages, the latter with the advanced aluminum-lithium metals.

The airframe OEMs will tell you that final assembly represents a small portion of the airplane and the risk of technology transfer is minimal. But it’s probably no coincidence that the COMAC/AVIC ARJ21 looks the the MD-80 (but sized like the DC-9-10) or that the C919 looks an awfully lot like the A320.

The article points out that Mitsubishi, which builds the wings for the Boeing 787, is now using this experience to design and build the MRJ-90. True enough, though it should be noted that having experience the composite wing issues associated with the 787, Mitsubishi abandoned plans for a composite wing for the MRJ and is proceeding with metal instead.

Suppliers are basically extorted by China: if you want to sell us your goods, you have to be prepared to transfer technology. Suppliers can’t ignore this huge market, but try to mitigate the blackmail by transferring “yesterday’s” technology or at least developing tomorrow’s technology today while transferring today’s technology to China.

It doesn’t stop with China, of course. Boeing and Airbus have Russian ties with engineers. Bombardier is planning a Q400 assembly line in Russia. Indian engineers work on Airbus and Boeing airplanes and now plan their own turbo-prop.

The days of the Big Two Duopoly are numbered. And it’s not just Boeing that is guilty of aiding and abetting the new competition.

Boeing’s Good Year in 2013

Set aside the disruptive and embarrassing ground of the 787 in January through April, Boeing had a very good year in 2013. It posted a record rate of deliveries, besting Airbus for the second year in a row. It’s order book was the best since 9/11. Here is the press release.

Airbus announces its 2013 production and delivery results on January 13.

Boeing-IAM vote: After-thoughts

We can’t go by this week without a short commentary on the Boeing-IAM vote on Friday, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this—we’ve analyzed this issue a number of times and there is little more to say except this:

It was a very tough vote for the union members of IAM 751. Giving up benefits won in previous hard-fought battles is always tough. But the Boeing 777X will be assembled in Washington State, and the composite wings will be built in Washington, too. Our view is that having 80% of something (benefits) is better than 100% of nothing (the 777X).

Boeing, of course, will return to the State and the union for more tax breaks and concessions when the 757 and 737 replacements are designed and a decision is needed about where to build these airplanes. Boeing is now in a position to seem more concessions from labor during a contract that’s in place to September 2024, and the union can’t strike. It’s been significantly weakened, losing leverage ion addition to benefits as a result of Friday’s contract vote.

But this enables Boeing to tell customers the threat of delivery disruptions from strikes is gone, and this will reassure them, which may or may not help sales—thus providing more work for IAM members.

Boeing faces a huge morale problem for the members who feel they’ve been had in this process. IAM members have long, long memories. Although there is no option to strike, members can “work to the rules” or find other ways to decrease productivity. Boeing has some real fence-mending to do. We’ll see whether it makes any effort to do so.

Labor isn’t content with the narrow yes vote, however. Some are calling for a third vote, arguing the January 3 election date was set to deliberately disenfranchise a large number of union members who likely would have voted No. Turnout last week was lower than the November 13 vote because many members were still on vacation from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Odds and Ends: Lessor announced for CSeries; Aircraft gap; Delta vs Alaska

Chinese Lessor for CSeries: Bombardier today announced the identity of a previously undisclosed customer for the CSeries, and it is important for two reasons: one, it’s a lessor, and two, it’s from China.

CDB Leasing Co. signed a conditional order for five CS100s and 10 CS300s, with 15 options, in 2012. The press release infers this is now a purchase order, but the wording is somewhat ambiguous:

Bombardier Aerospace announced today that CDB Leasing Co., Ltd. (CLC), one of China’s top leasing companies, is the previously announced undisclosed customer that signed a conditional purchase agreement for five CS100 and 10 CS300 jetliners. The purchase agreement also includes options on an additional five CS100 and 10 CS300 aircraft, for a total of up to 30 CSeries aircraft. This agreement was initially announced as a conditional order from an undisclosed customer for five CS100 and 10 CS300 jetliners on July 8, 2012.

BBD’s Mike Arcamone’s interview with the Globe and Mail suggests this is now a firm purchase contract. We received word from BBD that this remains a conditional order. The “conditional” part remains undisclosed.

CLC is the second lessor, after LCI, to order the CSeries. The fact that this order is from China is also important. BBD has a significant presence in China for production of Q400 fuselage segments and part of the CSeries fuselage is to be produced in China, though start-up has been difficult and the first fuselage sections were back-stopped and produced at BBD’s Belfast plant. The absence of a Chinese customer raised a number of questions with some observers, which are now answered to some degree, who will nonetheless seek additional Chinese orders (as well as more orders overall) now that the first flight has taken place.

Separately, this story in the Montreal Gazette provides the most comprehensive look at the CSeries test program since first flight September 16. BBD hasn’t said much about the testing since first flight, and the plane has only flown twice more.

Aircraft gap: This fits right in with our Boeing 757 replacement post this week–the creation of the Airbus A330 Lite still leaves a gap in OEM product lines, Aviation Week writes.

Delta vs Alaska: The schedule ramp-up by Delta Air Lines into Seattle, in competition with its marketing partner Alaska Airlines, continues to draw attention with the media.

Ted Reed of TheStreet.com has a thorough look at the competition.

CrankyFlier (we love this name) has a different take, which provides some valuable insight into the burgeoning competition.

China’s closed airspace hasn’t changed much in 20 years

China’s military continues to so control–and close airspace–in China that delays are rampant, this AP story reports. We’re reminded on the era when we were doing business in China, going there nine times in a 4 1/2 year period from December 1988-mid 1993.

Visiting a number of airlines there, one of which was operated by the military, along with CAAC, CASC and the McDonnell Douglas Shanghai factory, we were struck by the low aircraft utilization: only six or seven hours. Western standards were 10 or more. Even then, we were told, the military control of the skies was a key factor. The low utilization rate then clearly contributed to the need to buy more airplanes to meet traffic growth than was necessary. We haven’t seen any data on today’s utilization rate, but we have to believe this nexus remains.

Flying Chinese carriers then was pretty alarming at times. A ramp worker smoked while refueling a plane, with the refueling connection spraying fuel on the ramp. Carry-on baggage was in the aisle on take off. A person was in the lav on take off. We’ve read some stories in recent years that suggest not much has changed.

Back then, getting into China had limited options. We flew to Tokyo and pretty much had to take Air China into Beijing. A direct air route would go over Korea. We couldn’t go through North Korean air space and apparently flying over South Korean to China was then forbidden, so we had to route south around the Korean peninsula, adding a great deal of time to the flight.

The McDonnell Douglas Shanghai factory was primitive even by standards of the day then, well before robotics and moving production lines. The factory was producing one MD-80 a month and the planes were essentially hand-built. This antecedent might be why the MD-80-looking ARJ21 is having such difficulty. The factory drew so much power that parts of Shanghai went brown-out or black-out during the day, an issue presumably long-since overcome in the Shanghai power grid.

The MD-80 plant was supposed to be MDC’s “in” to gain market share. While selling something like 40 MD-80s/90s (if memory serves) to China via this plant, the venture clearly was a failure and the Chinese used the operation to learn a bit about commercial aviation. Embraer had an ERJ plant in China for the same purpose, and likewise came up short of its goal while the Chinese benefited more. The Airbus plant in Tianjin seems to have been more successful, but we don’t think it’s coincidence that the COMAC C919 looks a lot like the A320.