Here’s a visualization of events to look for in commercial aviation in 2015.
The Zhuhai airshow has not brought the expected slew of announcements from Western aircraft manufacturers. Boeing announced an order for 80 737 MAX Monday but this was characteristically from a leasing company across the Chinese see, SBMC Capital of Tokio.
Airbus on the other hand has not been able to move the much talked about A330 regional to order yet, despite announcing it in China last year and enticing with an announcement for a Chinese completion center for the aircraft before the show. Flightglobal reports that the A330 regional needs further explaining, Chinese carriers seems hesitant to buy what Boeing pitches as “obsolete technology” in a weight variant that only could fly local missions.
Airbus China president Eric Chen explains that the 200t variant is not constrained to Chinese mainland and can fly any missions that its range would allow. He also points out that the weight variant is just that, a de-papered weight version that can be upped to whatever take off weight the customer wishes at a later date by paperwork changes (and perhaps some additional galley equipment). As for technology level, an aircraft shall be valued for its contribution to a carriers business says Chen, not by which years it says on its airworthiness certificate.
The smaller A320 did not disappoint reports Aviation Week, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier could announce a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) for 100 A320 from state affiliated China Aircraft Leasing whereof 74 would be A320neo. The order, once confirmed, can help Chinese carriers with the aircraft demand for the 2016-2020 economic planning period. Chinese carriers have been slow to place the necessary early OEM orders for the period (needed due to the large backlogs), the lessor sees it can back-fill that demand when the carriers comes around to needing the aircraft.
Airbus also has explaining to do in other corners of the world, Emirates intend to start second round talks around A350 in the next months according to Reuters. The first round of 70 aircraft was cancelled after Emirates did not understand a specification change that Airbus undertook without consulting Emirates. This time Emirates will see the aircraft flying with neighbor Qatar Airways before agreeing to any specifications according to Emirates CEO Tim Clark.
The 10th Chinese airshow at Zhuhai opened today. It was a day with fewer announcements than expected from the usual suspects (Airbus, Boeing…) but the Chinese industry did not disappoint. China is now showing more and more of its coming might as a player on the aeronautics arena.
The most prominent displays at this show were on the military side, where China has two stealth aircraft projects flying (the large Chengdu canard J-20 and the smaller Shenyang J-31) while their canard Chengdu J-10 was flying the display circuits overhead (Figure 1).
All aircraft are of latest structural and aerodynamic design if not in engines and systems. This is a big difference to previous shows where the Russian Sukhoi and MIG aircraft and their local copies did the flying display until 2008. Since then everything has changed and now China and USA are the only countries in the world with two different stealth designs flying. USA has one in operation (F-22) and one close to (F-35) whereas China still has many years to go until they have their new aircraft operational. But it is significant that the old aeronautical behemoths Europe and Russia have none respective one (PAK-50) stealth fighter in flight test.
By Bjorn Fehrm
Part 3 of 3
In Part 2 of our three-part 757 Replacement analysis, we took a close look at Airbus’ new 97 tonne take-off weight A321neo, revealed in a world exclusive by Leeham News and Comment October 21. We analyzed the A321neoLR’s capabilities and limitations when compared to Boeing 757-200W and we saw that it could do the international flights that the 757-200 does with about 25% better efficiency. In this final Part 3, we will now compare the 757 and A321neoLR against what can be Boeing’s reaction, a clean sheet New Single Aisle, NSA, or New Light Twin Aisle, (NLT). First the conclusions from Part 2:
For Part 3 we can summarize:
GAO report on ‘Boeing’s bank:’ The US Government Accounting Office, a non-partisan investigating agency, completed a study of the funding and guarantees provided by the US ExIm Bank, which is under criticism from Congressional Republicans, and concluded non-US airlines do benefit from what amounts to subsidies.
These put US competitors at a disadvantage, GAO concludes. The full 29 page PDF may be found here.
The study period covered the global financial crisis, during which a good deal of private capital funding dried up. Airbus and Boeing each relied more heavily on export credit agencies for customer financing–ExIm in Boeing’s case and collectively European Credit Agencies, or ECAs, for Airbus.
The GAO found that ExIm funded or guaranteed financing for 789 Boeing wide body aircraft while the ECAs supported 821 Airbus wide-bodies.
Parenthetically, this statistic alone should demonstrate to Congress the need for ExIm to continue to be available for Boeing airplanes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.