Tanker media campaign continues

The media campaign on both sides of the tanker debate continues as the US House of Representatives gears up to hold some hearings on the issue.

This item published in American Spectator is another in a series of op-ed pieces originating with the Center for Security Policy, which bills itself as a non-partisan think tank. The Center has consistently opposed the Northrop Grumman KC-30 in the competition and the subsequent award. None of the op-ed pieces has disclosed previous ties to Boeing. According to the 2005-2006 Annual Report (published every two years, so the 2007-2008 report isn’t out yet), a couple of Boeing officials served on the advisory boards to the Center. This taints the op-eds and the perceived independence of the Center. (Tanker War Blog is written by an employee of the Center, and while this blog doesn’t disclose the Boeing connection in its “About Us,” the blog has never made any pretense of objectivity.) The writings often have interesting and valid points–but the Center is not as independent as the image would have readers believe.

Human Events published this piece by former Gen. John Handy. Handy also supports the Boeing KC-767. It turns out that Handy’s name appears in a series of e-mails in connection with the 2002-2004 tanker scandal. He was one of many internal Air Force recipients copied on correspondence. The emails emerged when Sen. John McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was investigating the first procurement.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Northrop) moved to block a bill introduced by several Members of Congress who are closely tied to Boeing that would all but guarantee a contract to Boeing. This item in The Mobile Press-Register explains the issue.

This analysis in the same newspaper takes a broader look at the Air Force procurement process. The tanker wasn’t the only example (in 2004 or 2008 ) of the Air Force muffing a procurement.

Boeing technology transfer sets up rival: paper

A 15 page study by the University of Buffalo raises concerns that technology transfer by Boeing to Japanese heavy industry, beginning with the 767 and peaking at the moment with the 787, sets up Japan’s emerging aerospace industry to become a serious rival.

The 787 production model has been a concern to the authors of the report since the 7E7 was announced in 2003. Furthermore, the Japanese government funding to the “heavies” is a violation of World Trade Organization rules, the authors report–to no small irony given Boeing’s complaints to the WTO about Airbus launch aid.

The paper is worth reading.

Eat our dust, Airbus

This satire is worth reading on the tanker debacle.

Winglets for the 777

Innovation Analysis Group has a 15 minute podcast with Aviation Partners, which revealed that they are working on winglets for the Boeing 777–with a prediction that the product could be ready for installation within two years.

This follows the winglets for the Boeing 767, which Aviation Partners suggests will provide a 5%-7% fuel burn improvement.

If a similar improvement is made for the 777, this will close the gap between the 777 and the projected fuel savings for the Airbus A350. Airbus projects a 20 operating cost savings over the 777, although we recognize that the remaining 13%-15% advantage still is nothing to sneeze at.

Aviation Partners is also working with Airbus, though AP declined to discuss it. It’s known, however, that Airbus and AP are getting ready to test a winglet on the A320 family. AP did discuss the prospect of winglets for the A380–which would be 17 feet tall. The wingtip fences on the Airbus family are old technology, AP says.

The podcast may be found here.

Boeing 2Q08 deliveries

Boeing delivered 126 aircraft in the second quarter, including 100 737s, six [correction–18–see the comment below] 777s, five 747s and three 767s. This is the equivalent of 33 737s a month (33.3 to be precise), six 777s, 1.6 747s and one 767.

Boeing has quietly been increasing the production rate of the 737 and has the capacity at its Renton plant to go to 40 a month–if the supply chain can perform. Boeing has been studying whether to go this high, which would match Airbus’ planned 2009 rate. There is a reluctance on the part of some to do so because of haunting memories of the 1997 737 production fiasco (though the current rate now exceeds the rate then), and also because of the emerging economic uncertainties.

But the 737 line is dramatically oversold in 2010, and Boeing is losing sales now because the line is essentially sold out to 2014. With a two year lead time required for suppliers to gear up, it would be mid-2010 before the production could be dramatically increased.

The 777 line average rate of six per month for 2Q08 is one less than the seven a month capacity of the Everett line. Boeing is offering the 777 as interim lift to accommodate airlines hurt by the 787 delays.

The 767 line, at one a month, has lots of room to grow if the supply chain is there to support it. But suppliers are pressed, running at full capacity serving Boeing and Airbus on other models. Increasing 767 parts production is problematic. Boeing has been thinking of going to 2-2.5 767s a month to support aggrieved 787 customers, and now with the uncertain prospect of winning some of all of the KC-X USAF tanker business, Boeing has some decisions to make. A full tanker award would be another 1-1.5 767s a month.

USAF skips appeal deadline in GAO ruling

Reuters reports that the USAF skipped filing an appeal of the GAO decision in the tanker protest. This means it’s likely to follow the GAO recommendation to rebid the tanker. The question now is, what does “rebid” mean? Will this be a full re-compete, or a narrow recompete just on the points the GAO found fault with?

Update, 345PM PDT: Here’s an update to the Reuters story with much more information. This story, in CQ Politics, takes a look at the GAO, its history of protests, and what makes for a successful protest. Buried in this piece by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Bill Virgin are some thoughts about foreign ownership issues for the tanker obscuring more relevant issues–like which airplane is better.

Update, Wednesday, July 1, 700 AM PDT: We missed this item dated June 27 from Defense Tech; it’s about a meeting between members of Congress, the GAO and the USAF over the tanker.

Flashback, February 29, 2008: Here’s the transcript of the USAF announcement of the contract to Northrop Grumman.

A non-partisan tanker cartoon generates from our favorite tanker cartoonist, JD Crowe from The Mobile Press-Register. He gives us this one that even Boeing people can appreciate.

Leeham Corporate Site updated

Our Corporate website has been updated with a preview of the Farnborough Air Show.

Alaska Air history worthy

A new history, just published, of Alaska Airlines and sister company Horizon Air is worthy of adding to any aviation book collection.

Written by aviation historian Robert J. Serling, now all of 90 years old, the book was commissioned by Alaska for its 75th anniversary, which was last year. The book was delayed in part because of Serling’s health. Although the book was commissioned, this is no powder-puff piece; it’s an honest reporting job that is probably one of Serling’s best among six or so airline histories written over the years.

Serling is one of our favorite aviation authors; we recommend buying the book. It’s available through Amazon.com.

Touring 787 line

We had the opportunity last week to tour the 787 production line.

There is optimism that the program is back on track, though there appears to be an emerging hiccup. We toured the line before information began emerging over the weekend that there may be a problem with airplane #4. We know that a major trade writer is also pursuing this event, including detail that is not in the initial report involving Section 44. Although there were elements of airplane 4 on the production floor during our tour, the fuselage barrels weren’t among them. We’re told the information did not begin to emerge from Charleston until after our tour, which was Thursday.

Be that as it may, Boeing tells us that traveled work continues to decline. The company pointed us to information released by Vought recently that Sections 47/48 traveled work was as follows, with the percentages representing the amount of completed work at the time of shipment to Everett:

AP1: 16% structures

AP2: 93% structures

AP3: 98% structures, 37% systems

AP4: 98% structures, 87% systems

Boeing reports that Alenia shipped Section 44 for airplane 5 with 100% of the work completed, “the first partner to ship an assembly with no open jobs.”

Boeing says that Power On airplane 1, which was two weeks earlier than anticipated under the current, revised schedule that had a June 30 target date, had fewer issues than anticipated. With that, Boeing is still planning a fourth quarter first flight with airplane 1. Although Boeing won’t give a more precise target date, word has more-or-less widely circulated that it’s supposed to be in October. This may or may not be correct.

The flight test program is planned for seven months, and with first delivery set for September 2009 (a date that slipped during the Investors Day last month), this suggests that the flight testing won’t begin until February (September, the ninth month, minus seven brings us to February–even we don’t need Excel to do this math). If this schedule seems aggressive, it is, and it’s something Boeing previously acknowledged. As the company also previously acknowledged, flight testing is planned to run 24/7 with six airplanes.

Some analysts have compared the aggressive 787 program with the flight testing of the 777, which ran 11 months. The 777 had nine test airplanes–a bit of a surprise, since it was thought there were fewer planes in that testing than planned for the 787. The 777 also had three engines offered on the airplane, vs. two for the 787, and was pioneering some ETOPS that won’t be necessary for the 787. Accordingly, Boeing believes, the compressed 787 testing is feasible.

There are some within Boeing, and outside of Boeing, who are concerned that the current 787 schedule now conflicts with the flight test program for the 747-8F, stretching resources. This isn’t the first time this concern emerged; originally an earlier 787 delay would have conflicted with the flight test schedule for the 777F. With the 777F due to take off any day now, this conflict is gone but the potential conflict now may overlap the 747-8.

There may be an easy answer, though, if painfully arrived at: with massive layoffs in the US airline industry, Boeing may find a ready pool of pilots available to supplement its own test pilot group of some 40.

Boeing has also created a new flight test center organization, as outlined in this story by Aviation Week magazine.

Update, 500 PM PDT: Here they are–the details of the Section 44 issue.

Update, Tuesday, July 1, 345 PDT: Bloomberg News has this extensive story about this development.

Update, Wednesday, July 2, 700 AM PDT: The Seattle Times writes that production was halted at Charleston after an FAA audit found irregularities. Although it was just for 24 hours, the news is a disturbing indication that all is not well even after Boeing assumed control of the plant.

Boeing: Back to the public well

This story in The Seattle Times outlines plans by Washington State legislators to pony up new tax breaks for Boeing for the 737 replacement.

The information came out of the new Aerospace Futures Alliance, which media revealed previously is about 50% funded by Boeing.

Our regular readers know that Washington State tax breaks are one of the key objections in the EU complaint filed with the World Trade Organization over Boeing’s “illegal” subsidies for the 787 program. Our regular readers also know that we don’t like tax breaks of any kind to any corporation, and we especially don’t like Washington State tax breaks because we live in this State and residents have to assume the tax burdens of tax breaks granted to corporations.

If this were Christmas, we’d say, “Bah humbug.”