Assessing the 747 program

Since Boeing’s earnings call last week, spurred on by the Flight International and Everett Herald stories doubting the future of the 747-8 program, we’ve received media inquiries whether we think the program will be canceled.

For those who missed or already forgot our first post of 2009, the answer to this is No. We called 2009 the year of program recovery for Boeing, and this included then and includes now the 747 program. Nothing has happened to change our view.

Our post earlier this week, Keeping or Ditching the 747?, added some color and independent reporting to the stories in Flight and The Herald. We reported–as did Flight–that Boeing has run various scenarios about what to do with the program: cancel it entirely, or keep the freighter but cancel the passenger model, or slow the program down.

For those who understand Boeing’s way of doing things, running all scenarios is SOP, Standard Operating Procedure. For those who understand Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, he’s going to want all options laid out for him. This is his SOP.

Word of these studies quickly became known.

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Ryanair and a GTF-powered A320/737

Jon Ostrower has an interesting think piece about the prospect of Ryanair ordering up to 400 Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s powered by the new Pratt & Whitney GTF, or Geared Turbo Fan P1000G.

We first broke the story that Boeing is evaluating the prospect of 737 “re-generation” for an article we did for Aviation and the Environment magazine. P&W is developing the engine for Mitsubishi’s MRJ regional jet and Bombardier’s CSeries, but both airplanes are small. The MRJ seats 70-90 and the CSeries 110-149, but the MRJ has only one order in Japan and the CSeries continues (at this writing) to be stillborn. P&W has been developing the GTF for 20 years; without re-engining the A320 or 737, this investment is pretty much down the drain.

With Boeing and Airbus seemingly putting off a full replacement airplane for their prime jets until around 2020 or even later, airlines–notably Southwest–want a more fuel efficient airplane before then. The GTF would save 12%-15% on fuel burn. As we wrote for AE magazine, Boeing is on track to make some decisions for a 737RG this year with a prospect for an EIS in the 2013-15 period. This is a timeframe P&W can meet to provide the GTF to Boeing.

Airbus, of course, provided an A340-600 test bed for P&W to get some good data for the GTF. This information went to Airbus’ R&D department, where evaluation of a GTF A320 is almost a certainty.

Or not. James Wallace of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Airbus super-chief John Leahy says there aren’t any talks going on with Ryanair.

FAA weighs in on 787 flight test timeline

Update, Feb. 8:

The Puget Sound Business Journal has this article focusing on the certification timeline.

Original Post:

Boeing has publicly said that it plans a flight test timeline of 6-8 months, depending on when Boeing was making its public statements (it’s been a bit of a moving target). The latest information appears to be an 8 month timeline.

Boeing forecasts making its first flight of the 787 in the second quarter; its internal timeline was about April 20 or 24 (first reported by Air Transport World) but we understand this is now a To Be Determined date, with an internal timeline in June–still within the second quarter, it must be noted. (We previously predicted a first flight in the June-August period, and are at the moment sticking to this.)

All Nippon Airlines, the launch customer set to receive the first airplane, said it expects delivery in February 2010. This reaffirms the anticipated eight month flight test forecast made by Boeing, assuming a June first flight. If the first flight comes as late as August, a February delivery to ANA still is theoretically possible if a six month flight test program can be achieved.

As we previously reported, Boeing has reorganized its flight testing department with the intent of increasing manpower and efficiencies. Full implementation isn’t expected until September, about mid-way into the currently projected 787 flight testing timeline. This suggests the 787 flight test program may partially benefit from the reorganization.

As many have written, previous Boeing test programs have taken 11 months or more and aerospace analysts seem fairly well united in predicting a year-long flight test program is more realistic for the 787 than that suggested by Boeing. So we asked the Federal Aviation Administration what it thinks about the timeline. Here’s the answer.

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US 1549

New York magazine has a good article that starts with US Airways 1549 and continues for five URL links discussing a variety of pilot-emergency handlings. It’s a great piece and the starting URL link is here.

Keeping or ditching the 747-8?

When Boeing CEO James McNerney gave a somewhat mixed assessment of the 747-8 program last week during the earnings call, this set off a couple of key stories about the future of the airplane.

Michele Dunlop of The Evertt Herald wrote this interesting piece, published today. Max Kingsley-Jones of Flight International beat her to the punch slightly with this story on Saturday.

As readers know, we’ve been closely following the 747-8 development for more than a year and were the first to report that delays were likely.

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Why Airbus nixed AF One bid

Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd got the real reason why Airbus parent EADS said no to bidding on Air Force One:

“Airbus backed out only after the US government failed to qualify for financing.”

FAA responds to 787 fastener issue

When we were preparing our report about Boeing planning to operate its 787 flight testing program with some non-conforming fasterners still installed on the first six test aircraft, Boeing responded to our inquiries by noting that it worked with the FAA to ensure compliance with rules and safety.

In a routine action, we also inquired of the FAA. This was January 13; we published our story January 25, still awaiting the FAA response. We received that response today. Here are the questions we posed and the FAA’s answers:

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SPEEA to Wichita: Reject contract

SPEEA, the Boeing engineer’s union, today urged its members at Boeing Wichita/IDS to reject Boeing’s last contract.

In this market, observers probably think SPEEA is looney, but SPEEA believes Boeing is gearing up to sell the plant and Boeing won’t offer language to protect the union members in this event. The contract offer is less than SPEEA received for its Puget Sound (Seattle) and Utah workers.

Split tanker buy: Murtha

He didn’t get much notice last year when he said it, but US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a key member in the House and generally one sympathetic to Boeing, is urging a split buy between Boeing and Northrop Grumman for the KC-X.

George Talbot of The Mobile Press-Register has this story. Aviation Week has this report.

Update, 10:20 AM PST: With SPEEA, the Boeing engineer’s union, recommending rejection of the company’s best and final offer, SPEEA put out a statement that included this paragraph; we wonder what Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt think about this–they are among the most vociferous boosters of Boeing’s KC-767 offering for the USAF KC-X:

Work at Wichita includes Italian and Japanese 767 tankers, E-4B (747 Airborne Operations Center) and E-737 Australian Wedgetail (Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft). The Italian tankers and Wedgetail are years behind schedule. While union members worked with management to secure the contract for the next aerial refueling tanker, the company refuses to commit to bringing the work to Wichita if Boeing secures the $35 billion contract with the Air Force.

767-400: sold

Boeing sold its 767-400 that was built as the USAF E10 test bed and which we kept asking (without response) if Boeing might convert to a prototype for a bid for a “KC-764” aerial tanker. Flight Global has this report.