Guest column: envisioning the next round of airplanes

By James N. Krebs

Leeham News recently forecast that the next all new Boeing airplane will be a 757 successor with an entry-into-service around 2025, followed by a smaller NSA (New Small Airplane), a 737 MAX/A320 neo successor, in maybe 2027. I believe it will be clear in the next few years that the technology is and can be available here to build a reasonable-risk NSA with 20% fuel savings over the MAXes/ neos (at same seats) for initial service by 2025 (which will demand perhaps 40 more than 162 seats for even better economics). Its production would ramp up over ~5 years or so.

I hope this would be mainly a “Made in the USA” Boeing NSA: American engineering, American manufacturing, American jobs and American competitive edge. If that takes some helpful brainpower and/or investments from NASA, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, etc, good.

Boeing and Airbus might love to build a combined 100/mo. MAXes and neos “forever,” but technology and market forces aren’t likely to permit this. The companies won’t want to whet any appetites soon but I hope Boeing’s advanced design people are already at work–I’d be disappointed if they aren’t.

Airbus could certainly put an A320neo successor in service 10 years after their 2015 neo. A reengined A330 and a possible A350-1100 aren’t the only new projects they are capable of in the next decade.  The market response to their A320neo family completely surprised Boeing a couple years ago. What’s next?

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Rolls-Royce Trent engines program update at PNAA conference

Bill Boyd, senior vice president of Rolls-Royce, provided a program update of its Trent engines that are being developed for the Airbus A350 XWB. He appeared on a panel with GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney. He appeared at the 2014 Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference last week in the Seattle area.

Sound is soft; use of headphones is recommended.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ps_BuG1_JQ

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2Lgs-oGJYg

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euo3TJZlQyc

Development of the GE9X for the Boeing 777X

Jason Brewer, general manager of GE Commercial Engines Marketing, appeared at last week’s Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance 2014 conference on the Big Engines panel.

Brewer discussed the development of the GE9X for the Boeing 777X, outlining the new technology going into this big engine for Boeing’s latest 7-Series aircraft.

One slide–which is available to the conference attendees–showed a market forecast of 3,000 aircraft in a context that appeared to suggest GE sees a market of this number of airplanes for the 777X. We clarified this with Brewer after the panel; the forecast is for the 350-400 seat sector. Brewer told us that GE hopes to capture 1,700 of these aircraft.

This is the first time we’ve seen this sub-sector broken out–Airbus and Boeing typically forecast for the larger 300-400 seat sector in their 20 year forecasts. Airbus and Boeing have previously indicated they think the demand for the 400-seat aircraft (i.e., the 777-9X) is between 670-780 respectively.

The sound is pretty soft on this. It will best be heard with headphones.

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Updating the A380: the prospect of a neo version and what’s involved

Recent headlines and this column report that Airbus is considering re-engining the popular A330 with GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN power plants. A New Engine Option and other changes would improve the A330’s economy by an estimated 10% percent after offsets for increased drag and weight.

But the A330 isn’t the only Airbus airplane being considered for new engines made popular by the A320neo family. Tim Clark, president and chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, urged Airbus to improve efficiency of the giant A380 with engine technology found in newer generation aircraft.

How feasible is an A380neo? What are the technological issues? Would there be enough of an economic gain? And is there a market for an A380neo?

The A380 of today

The A380 has been hailed as a highly efficient airliner since it went into service 2008, assuming the giant plane can be filled. But only six years later, the first voices have been raised that this will not continue to be the case should the continuous improvements that have been flowing into the airframe not pick up speed.

The launch of the Boeing 777X also brought focus on the state of the A380 come the latter part of this decade when the 777-9X enters flight testing in advance of its planned 2020 entry-into-service. Tim Clark expressed  that “it is time that the A380 gets an injection of the new technology which is now becoming available for the A320/737 in the form of GTF/LEAP and GE9X for the 777X. “

Before we look into what can be done short-to–mid-term to inject improved efficiency, let’s establish the baseline as it exists today. The A380 is considered by some the most efficient way of flying passengers between two long haul points if there is enough of demand. The competition today is the Boeing 777-300ER and 747-8i.  (Qantas Airways is dropping some A380 flights that have 50% load factors, demonstrating the aircraft is inefficient if the demand is insufficient.)

Let’s assume we want to transport passengers between San Francisco and Hong Kong, one of the longer flights which are made non-stop in both directions. Going West, it takes a Cathay 777-300ER 15 hours and going East, 12 hours, the difference being due to prevailing headwinds going West. For our check, we will use the more demanding of these legs, which then works out as the equivalent of flying 7,200nm. To compare the three different aircraft in a fair way, we need to load them to the same payload, in our case passengers with luggage. We will not consider cargo in this initial analysis. The leg chosen is not one which allows much weight for cargo, but cargo certainly belongs to a complete analysis of an airplane and we will point out where it will affect any conclusions.  

When comparing the standard three-class seating numbers between the OEMs, it is clear these are not made to the same standards of comfort. Airbus has admitted that the A380 is too lightly loaded at 525 passengers. The 777-300ER at nine abreast and 365 seats is equipped with a comfortable 18’’ economy class at 32’’ pitch but the business class is modeled with a non-standard 48’’ pitch. The 747-8i at 467 seats is not laid out to any comfort standards comparable to the other two. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison we have equipped all aircraft with the same three-class cabin with a standard seating consisting of first class at 81’’ pitch, business class at 60’’ pitch and economy class with 32’’ pitch. Seat widths are 37’’, 22’’ and 18’ respectively and the ratios of the different premium seatings vs. economy are kept the same. Here the aircraft are listed with the in-service year and with their respective payload capabilities:

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Looking ahead to 2014

Here’s what to look for in 2014 in commercial aviation.

Airbus

A350 XWB: The high-profile A350 XWB program continues flight testing this year. Entry-into-service has been a sliding target. The program is running about 18 months behind original plan and EIS was intended for mid-year following initial delays. Even this has slipped, first to September and then to “the fourth quarter.” Currently first delivery is scheduled in October to launch customer Qatar Airways, which is slated to get four A350-900s this year. Emirates Airlines is listed as getting two of the total of six scheduled for delivery.

A320neo: Lost in the shadow of the A350 program is the A320neo. Final assembly of the first aircraft is to begin in the spring and first flight, followed by testing, is scheduled for this fall. The Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan is the initial variant. First delivery is scheduled in the fall of 2015.

Others: Airbus continues to evaluate whether to proceed with developing an A330neo. Based on our Market Intelligence, we expect a decision to proceed will come this year. Concurrently with this, we expect most if not all of the remaining 61 orders for the A350-800 to be upgraded to the A350-900 and the -800 program to be officially rescheduled if not dropped. The -800 is currently supposed to enter service in 2016, followed by the A350-1000 in 2017. But recall that as delays mounted on the A350-900, Airbus shifted engineers to the -900 and the -1000 at the expense of the -800. Salesmen have consistently shifted orders from the -800 to the larger models. We long ago anticipated the -800’s EIS would be rescheduled to 2018, following the -1000. The -800’s economics aren’t compelling enough just justify the expensive list price. So we expect Airbus to upgrade the A330 to a new engine option, using either or both of the Trent 1000 TEN and GEnx with PIPs (Performance Improvement Packages) or with some modifications. EIS would be about 2018. This precludes Pratt & Whitney from offering a large version of the Geared Turbo Fan, which wouldn’t be ready by then.

We also expect Airbus and the engine makers to look at re-engining the A380, driven by desires of Emirates Airlines to see a 10% economic improvement. Emirates announced an order for 50 A380s at the Dubai Air Show but instead of ordering the incumbent engine from Engine Alliance for these, Emirates left the engine choice open. This leaves open the possibility the A330neo and the “A380RE” could share an engine choice.

Boeing

After many years of turmoil, 2014 should be quiet for Boeing (now that the IAM issues have been resolved—see below).

787: Barring any untoward and unexpected issues, Boeing seems at long last to be on an upward trajectory with this program—but we’ve said this before. There are still nagging dispatch and fleet reliability issues on the 787-8 fleet to resolve, but flight testing of the 787-9 appears to be going well. Certification and first delivery should come without trouble this year, to launch customer Air New Zealand.

737: Nothing to report on the Next Generation program except ramp-up to a production rate of 42/mo is to take effect this year. Development continues on the 737 MAX.

Others: The 777 Classic is humming along. Now that the 777X is launched, we’ll be closely watching sales for the Classic; Boeing has a three year backlog but six years to 777X’s EIS. How is Boeing going to fill this gap, and what kind of price cuts will be offered to do so?

The 747-8 continues to struggle, barely holding on. Boeing says it thinks the cargo market will recover this year, boosting sales of the 747-8F. We’re dubious.

The 767 commercial program continues to wind down. The 767-based KC-46A program ramps up.

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A330neo prospect gains traction

Note: The following was distributed to our e-mail list December 23. Last week, American Airlines (as predicted) swapped the A350-800s for A350-900s.

The possibility of Airbus launching an A330 new engine option appears to be gaining ground.

Our Market Intelligence tells us that Airbus is considering a decision soon, probably next year, with a target entry-into-service date of 2018.

A decision to proceed with an A330neo would come after one to drop the A350-800, according to our information. Airbus has systematically switched -800 customers to the larger, and more profitable A350-900 and A350-1000. There are now just 79 A350-800s in backlog.

Customer

Qty

Comments

Aeroflot

8

 

Aircraft Purchase Fleet

12

For Alitalia

Asiana

8

 

AWAS

2

Probably will swap to A359

Hawaiian Airlines

6

Waiting on US Airways

ILFC

6

Probably will swap to A359

Kingfisher

5

Good as gone

Libyan

4

 

US Airways

18

Expected to disappear now that AA merger completed, replaced with A359/A351

Yemenia

10

 

Source: Airbus, Nov. 2013

79

 Leeham Co Chart

We identify 37, or 47%, that probably are already at risk of cancellation in favor of the larger A350-900 or A350-1000. These 37 are highlighted in red and pink. Another 10, those for Yemenia, are probably already iffy, according to Market Intelligence. The total of 47 represents 59% of the backlog. We have no information on the remaining customers’ intentions.

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Assessing the Air Canada 737 order: factors that likely played a role

How did Boeing win the Air Canada mainline 150-200 seat jet order when only a couple of weeks ago Flight Global reported the Airbus won the deal?

We, too, heard that Airbus seemed to be the favorite, but the information was soft. We’re not rapping Flight Global—undoubtedly it was confident in its sourcing, but this just shows that a situation can change dramatically and quickly.

We’ve been following the competition for months, behind the scenes, and here are factors we understood that were involved.

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Odds and Ends: AirAsia on A330neo, A380; 777X specificiations; A380 engine PIPs

AirAsia on Airbus: AirAsia Group is one of Airbus’ largest customers, and its CEO Tony Fernandes is increasingly influential in the Asian sector. He’s also into car racing, often betting Virgin Group’s Richard Branson. This short interview details Fernandes’ view on the prospective A330neo–something Fernandes has been pushing for some time–and what he thinks Airbus should do with the A380.

Looking at the 777X: Aviation Week has a detailed look at the Boeing 777X “under the skin.” Fuel burn, engine thrust and general specifications are in the article. Aviation Week also has a series of videos from the Dubai Air Show here. Topics: 777X, Qatar Airways and A380 engines. On the latter, Emirates CEO Tim Clark suggests putting the new GE9X or Rolls-Royce Trent on the A380 to reduce fuel burn by 10%.

Airbus’ A350-800 dilemma

Last week we discussed Airbus’ A350-1000 dilemma. The -1000 will be a fine airplane, but we concluded the company needs to go forward with a larger capacity “A350-1100” to match the size of the Boeing 777-9X, but take the Boeing 787-10 approach and be content with sacrificing range in lieu of designing a new wing and engines.

Airbus’ A350 dilemma doesn’t end there. What’s it to do with the A350-800? One fleet planner told us a year or more ago that the “-800 is an expensive A330-300” with the same operating costs as the larger capacity A350-900.

Airbus has been encouraging customers to move up to the larger A350-900, with Hawaiian Airlines and US Airways the key hold outs. Conventional wisdom says US Airways will swap its order once the merger with American Airlines goes through (which is looking more and more likely, given settlement talks with the Department of Justice). American has a large order for the Boeing 787-9, making the -800 unnecessary in a combined carrier fleet plan.

There are now around 80 -800s in Airbus’ backlog, and even officials at Airbus have been ambiguous about green-lighting production of the -800, which is supposed to enter service in 2016 (after the -900 but before the -1000). We have written several posts in which we concluded the -800 would be re-sequenced to 2018, after the 2017 EIS of the -1000.

We believe there is a very good chance the A350-800 will be dropped in favor of proceeding with an A350-1100.

So what’s Airbus to do in the 250-300 seat space now occupied by the -800 and the aging A330 family?

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Odds and Ends: Supply chain demands; Southwest hints?; Retrospective on A320/737 replacements

Supply chain demands: Earlier this week, we talked about the prospect of production wars as Airbus and Boeing ramp up over the next five years, combined with the new entrants and the new offerings from Bombardier and Embraer.

We noted that this will mean opportunity and risk for the supply chain. Ryan Murphy from Salem Partners has a long analysis the starts with the finishing sector but which goes beyond this to discuss the broader implications. It makes for an interesting read.

Southwest: Hints of things to come? Yesterday we wrote about Southwest Airlines and the demise of the Wright Amendment that restricts travel from Dallas Love Field. We suggested several routes that Southwest would launch from Love once the Amendment passes into history.

Here’s a display Southwest erected on its countdown to the end of the Wright Amendment. We think it hints at things to come. Going clockwise: Chicago, New York and Charlotte seem to be where the airplanes are going. Then Los Angeles and Salt Lake City seem to be implied destinations. But the last one? Boise, or some other obscure city?

Or are we reading too much into the placement of these airplanes?

Source: Dallas Morning News

Our thoughts:

WN Love Field

Retrospective: We were looking at previous posts for some specific information and in the process re-read one about replacing the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. The post dates from 2009. In light of subsequent events, it makes for interesting re-reading. We discuss the internal views of Airbus and Boeing about replacement or re-engining their aircraft and the engines from Pratt & Whitney and GE Aviation/CFM. We also touch on Boeing leaning toward not replacing the 777.

Retrospective, Part 2: Airchive has a nice set of historical looks at the development of the Boeing factory at Everett: Part One and Part Two.