C919 program in trouble

COMAC’s bid to develop a 150-200 passenger jet is in trouble.

According to this report, CFM doesn’t plan to proceed with an assembly line within China for the LEAP-1C that will power the C919. Concerns over intellectual property and the business case for the airplane are cited.

According to this article, GKN of Europe, which was to build the horizontal tail assembly, isn’t going to.

The airplane was supposed to enter service in 2016 and we already figured a delay of at least two years. Given the regional ARJ21 is already around seven years late, and still not certified, we think the two years is probably going to move to the right substantially.

If we’re generous and look at a 2020 EIS, this means the C919–an Airbus A320 look-alike–would enter service five years after the A320neo and three years after the Boeing 737 MAX. The airplane is also going to trail in sophistication.

Boeing officials as recently as this year still believe China will develop viable, commercially competitive airliners within the next 25-50 years. The ARJ21 program has been a disaster and it we anticipated that the C919 would be better than the ARJ21 (a low bar, to be sure), not truly competitive with the A320 and 737 but COMAC’s “makee-learn” airliner. It’s looking like this will be a disastrous program, too.

Odds and Ends: Dominating Wide-Bodies; Trying to save the 747-8; Delta waits; China OKs 787

Dominating Wide-Bodies: Boeing claimed at its investors’ day yesterday it will dominate the wide-body sector. This, predictably, caused some mirth among our Reader Comments.

We agree with Boeing–for the next several years.

The 777-9X will have a monopoly in its seat size, just as the 777-300ER does today. Boeing’s greater production plans, both announced and with figures bandied about for some time, also support this.

Below is our chart, based on announced production numbers, anticipated 787 production and our own prognostications.

Production rate is per month.

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
A380 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
A350 2 4 6 8 10 10 10
A330 10 10 10 10 8 8 8
Total 15 17 19 21 21 21 21
777X 2
777 Today 8.3 8.3 8.3 8.3 8.3 6 6
787 10 10 10 12 14 14 14
747 1.75 1.75 1  1 1 1 1
Total 20.05 20.05 19.3 21.3 23.3 21 21

What do you think?

Saving the 747-8: The Puget Sound Business Journal has this article about Boeing’s latest effort to improve sales prospects for the 747-8, particularly the passenger model. Only 31 Intercontinentals have been ordered by airlines (vs 262 Airbus A380s). This is only a 10.5% market share for Boeing.

Delta Waits: Delta Air Lines hasn’t ordered the Boeing 787, the Airbus A350 or the re-engined aircraft. The 787s it inherited from Northwest Airlines’ order and merger have been pushed out to 2020 and, for all intents and purposes, may as well be considered canceled, though they are still on the books. Why no orders for the new or re-engined airplanes? This article explains.

China OKs 787: Chinese authorities have at long last certified the 787 for operation by its airlines. China Southern was one of the early launch customers but swapped delivery slots to avoid the so-called Terrible Teens (overweight, highly re-worked models). Chinese carriers hoped to have the 787 in service in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, and when the 787 was named, the number “8” was said to be a good number in China (thought there was never really any doubt about the name since 8 was next in sequence).

But certification was delayed and delayed. We’ll probably never truly know why, but market rumor reported a nexus between the Chinese certifying the 787 and the FAA’s dawdling on certification procedures for the COMAC C919. Not that the Chinese would ever play politics with airplane deals, mind you….

Tired of kerosene smell ingested into the cabin on start-up? Hope for this

In the November election, Washington State and Colorado voters approved recreational use of marijuana. As anyone who ever tried MJ knows (except a certain former President, who says he didn’t inhale), MJ has a sweet odor that is very distinctive.

Who has flown an airplane and hasn’t smelled that pungent odor of jet fuel being sucked into the cabin now and then during push-back and start-up (except maybe that former President, if he didn’t inhale then, either)?

Ballard Biofuel in Seattle may have the answer. Let’s all inhale.

Looking ahead to 2013 in Commercial Aviation

Last year yielded a few surprises in an otherwise predictable year.

Jim Albaugh shocked the aviation world when he retired unexpectedly at age 62. He was expected to remain in his position as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes until mandatory retirement at 65.

EADS CEO Tom Enders unleashed a surprise merger proposal with BAE Systems. The deal didn’t work due to German government opposition, but he ultimately accomplished a governance restructuring—a key objective of the merger—that will reduce government meddling in the future.

Those were about it. Boeing’s much-anticipated Authority to Offer the 777X didn’t happen. ATO for the 787-10 was stealthily granted. Airbus and Bombardier, to no surprise, delayed the A350 and CSeries by a few months. Boeing came roaring back to become sales leader for the first time in about a decade, on the strength of 737 MAX sales.

What’s ahead for 2013? Here’s what we see.


With the spurt of 737 MAX sales over, narrow-body sales competition between Airbus and Boeing should return to normalcy. Will twin-aisle sales become the next growth market because of the first flight of the A350 and the program launch of the 7870-10? Will ATO of the 777X evolve into a program launch as well? Will Bombardier’s first flight of the CSeries and subsequent testing validate its claims for the new technology airplane and finally spur a large number of sales of the “show me” crowd?

Here’s our OEM-by-OEM rundown.

Read more

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.

Odds and Ends: Top 10 stories in 2012; A400M; C919 “orders”

Top 10 Stories in 2012: Here’s a piece we did for CNN International on the Top 10 stories, David Letterman style, for 2012.

Airbus A400M: Airbus claims it’s ready to go. First deliveries slated for next summer.

C919–orders, no deposits: How firm are the 380 “orders” for the COMAC C919? Good question. According to a Chinese media report via this Western news story, there are no deposits for the “orders.”

Washington State’s Signal to Boeing: Gov. Christine Gregoire, in her final budget (see leaves office next month), put $25m in for aerospace training and STEM education. The Puget Sound Business Journal explains the significance of this.

Update (already): Seems Mobile (AL) is put out we didn’t include the Airbus announcement of a production plant there in our Top 10. Over at CNN, a reader commented that the Delta Air Lines purchase of an oil refinery was worthy. Feel free to add your comments about what should have (or should not have) been included in this list.

Odds and Ends: Why aircraft are late; catching up to Boeing

Why Aircraft Are Late: Boeing 747-8, 787, Airbus A380, A400M, A350, Mitsubishi MRJ, Comac ARJ-21, Sukhoi Superjet and probably Comac C919, Bombardier CSeries and Irkut MS-21–all late. It’s the new normal. Ernie Arvai at AirInsight takes a look at why.

Catching Boeing: Airbus may well have trailed Boeing through the Farnborough Air Show in terms of orders, but it may also be on the way toward catching up. The big PAL order for 54 aircraft was announced this week. A 100-airplane order out of China is due to be announced shortly. Another 100 airplane order from AirAsia appears to be pending. Year-to-date, Boeing has 701 net orders and Airbus has 270 net orders. These three orders still leaves Airbus well short of Boeing, and Boeing has more 737 MAX commitments to convert this year. We expect Boeing to finish the year in first place. It will be interesting to see how close Airbus can come.

NEO firm order wrap: Aviation Week has this detailed recap of NEO firm orders. We expect some of the A320neos to be converted to A321neos as time goes on, just as we expect 737-8 MAX orders to be swapped with 737-9 MAX positions.

Odds and Ends: 737 faces challenges; 737 MAX and China; American Air

737 Challenges: The Puget Sound Business Journal has this long piece about the challenges facing the 737 from Airbus and others.

737 MAX and China: Meantime, China is, at long last, looking at the MAX for its airlines.

American Airlines: A merger with US Airways makes the most sense, says Aspire Aviation (we agree as long as US management is in control)

It’s official–new A350 delay

EADS, parent of Airbus, reported that there will be a three month delay for the A350 EIS due to wing drilling issues. We reported on July 6 we expected a delay of 5-6 months and earlier this week linked to an article suggesting one month. Here is an article synopsizing the information. The Wall Street Journal has this article.

This represents a 15 month delay for the A350 XWB-900 EIS. It’s unclear what, if any, cascading effect this will have on the A350-800 and the A350-1000.

Airbus said the program remains “challenging” and the linked news articles indicate this.

We’re skeptical of all new airplane programs given the recent history at Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier (CRJ1000) and, if you want to add it in, COMAC’s ARJ21 (though this one might be a bit unfair to include with the legacy OEMs). We would not be surprised if the A350 has additional delays between now and EIS.

But one thing we are seeing is that Airbus is coming forward sooner with delay acknowledgements than it did on the A380 and Boeing did on the 787. We have to give Airbus credit for being more forthcoming than in the past.


But what of the runway performance?

Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has this story in which he has the following observation:

Wyse revealed that Boeing, through structural efficiencies, has also beefed up the allowed maximum take-off weights for the three MAX variants.

Each is 5,000 to 7,000 lbs heavier than the maximum take-off weights of the current 737s.

That means each 737 MAX model, even though heavier than the corresponding current model of the 737NG, can either carry a heavier payload or carry more fuel and so fly farther.

This is good. But we’re hearing from airlines that runway performance may be worse than the 737NG. The airplane is heavier but the wing is the same and the engine thrust is still somewhat of a mystery. CFM International, maker of the LEAP-1B that will power the MAX, lists thrust on its website of 20,000-28,000 lbs without identifying the sub-types and thrust to which the engines will be applied.

These thrust ratings are similar to those now on the NG, rather than being increased to compensate for the increased weight.

One airline tells us that runway performance for the -8 MAX and -9 MAX is longer than the -800 and -900. (The airline is not considering the -7 MAX and doesn’t have the -700.) This, the airline tells us, makes the airplanes problematic at some airports it serves.

This illustrates the dilemma Boeing and CFM have with the physically-constrained 737. CFM could build any engine it wants that would get the job done. It has, after all, two LEAP engines in development for the COMAC C919 and the Airbus A320neo. But the 737 presents special challenges and CFM is constrained unless Boeing lifts the entire airplane with new main gear. But this would mean a new wing box and associated structural changes, adding significantly to the cost. And Boeing won’t to this.

There’s still a lot about MAX we don’t know. And many customers are also waiting for the information.