Aviation Blog by Sarang Karmarkar.
For all who are interested in aviation and like to fly high....
This is a personal blog - the views expressed are my own and they do not represent any airline.
Monday, 27 May 2013
BOEING TO MAKE UP LOST GROUNDS ON ALL FRONTS
- A350-900 MSN1 around 3 tonnes overweight - 777X CFRP wing likely to be made in Japan - 777X CFRP wing could be transported to Everett by ship - Thrust for 777-9X’s GE9X engine increased to 103,000lbs - Halting A350-1000′s rise Boeing’s top priority - 777-9X more weight efficient than A350-1000 & has better seat-mile costs - 777X Freighter presented to Lufthansa to be available from 2025 - UK’s easyJet likely to defect to Boeing 737 MAX, Bombardier CSeries - Boeing to modify 737 MAX 8 doors to add around 9 seats - 737 MAX 8 to meet 13% fuel burn reduction per seat target after door modification - Door modification has negligible impact on MEW - 737 MAX 7 & MAX 9 also likely to have around 9 more seats
The debut of the Airbus A350 XWB (extra widebody) was a far cry from that of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the difference between the two could not have been more stark. Without much fanfare, Airbus’ US$15 billion answer to both the lightweight 787 Dreamliner and the larger 777 rolled out from the paint hangar in the European plane-maker’s headquarters in Toulouse, France 13 May with a complete set of flight test instrumentation (FTI).
The aircraft, MSN (manufacturer’s serial number) 001, has already undergone ground vibration tests and a hand-over to the airframer’s flight test department was said to have already happened. This puts the baseline variant of the large twin-aisle aircraft family, the A350-900, on course to have its first flight this summer, possibly as early as mid-June coinciding this year’s Paris Air Show during 17-23 June, thus stealing a march on its transatlantic arch-rival Boeing over the keenly-awaited launch of the 323-seat Boeing 787-10X Dreamliner.
In stark contrast, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner rolled out on 8th July, 2007, a public relations stunt that coincided with the 7/8/07 arrangement on the calendar, with an empty shell held together by temporary fasteners. Shortly thereafter, this cascaded into a full-blown crisis as the 787′s global supply chain broke down that resulted in 7 delivery delays and pushed back the first delivery of the revolutionary carbon-composite jet from May 2008 to September 2011. This was compounded by a 58-day long International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) strike in fall 2008 that brought the beleaguered programme to its knees. Financially, Boeing paid US$580 million in cash and US$422 million in advance payment to purchase Vought’s 50% share in the Global Aeronautica plant in Charleston, South Carolina as well as buying out the remaining 50% stake held by Alenia in 2009.
Fast forward to January 2013. A little more than a year after the 787′s entry into service (EIS), the aircraft’s lithium cobalt-dioxide (LiCoO2) battery that powered the start-up process of its auxiliary power unit (APU) suffered from a thermal runaway onboard a brand new Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner at Boston Logan International Airport on January 7. Then on January 16 the main lithium-ion battery located in the forward electrical/equipment (E/E) bay onboard an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 787-8 overheated, spewed flammable electrolytes, decolourised and deformed, prompting the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators around the world to ground the aircraft, the first time since the 1979 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 grounding.
A350 well-executed & gaining momentum This grim picture, coupled with the tumultuous history in bringing the A380 superjumbo to the market, form painful memory still fresh on Airbus management’s mind which the European Aeronautics, Defence & Space Co. (EADS) wholly-owned subsidiary vowed not to repeat on the A350 XWB programme.
This starts with the conservatism being built within the A350 XWB programme, not least from Airbus executives being coy in giving a target date for MSN001′s first flight publicly, albeit an internal one of mid-June is believed to exist.
“You will not hear me today giving any new comment on any date; we are preparing the aircraft, we are doing ground tests, we are continuing structural tests. The important thing is that it is a ‘mature’ first flight and this will happen in the summer I think. On this we are more and more confident,” EADS chief financial officer (CFO) Harald Wilhelm asserted.
Besides, Airbus has bought out struggling suppliers PFW and Alestis Aerospace, of which the latter is responsible for manufacturing the long-haul twin jet’s belly fairing and Section 19.1 or the tail cone, pre-emptively before these contractors’ financial plights intensify into a supply chain crisis for the A350 XWB. Another potential trouble spot regarding build quality at a component level – Spirit AeroSystems which builds the carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) Section 15 centre fuselage, fixed leading edge and front wing spars at its 500,000ft² sprawling factory at Kinston, North Carolina, appears to be under control, although Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Airbus say the supplier continues to be “one of those on top of Airbus’ watch list”.
In addition, Airbus has now reprogrammed the wing drilling machines at its Broughton, United Kingdom (UK) wing factory that was the culprit behind a 3-month delay in the A350-900′s first flight and entry into service (EIS), along with reverting back to the slightly heavier but proven nickel-cadmium battery in order to keep the revised delivery schedule intact with a first delivery in late 2014.
This highlights the risk averse approach adopted by Airbus by being more conservative than any previous Airbus aircraft programmes, which is beginning to pay off.
For instance, Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at Airbus and people familiar with the matter all confirmed that MSN001, the first A350-900 ever built, is 3 tonnes (6,613.9lbs) overweight against the aircraft’s manufacturer weight empty (MWE) of 115.7t, or 1.1% of its 268t maximum take-off weight (MTOW).
In comparison, the first 787-8 ever built ZA001 is 9.8 tonnes (21,500lbs) overweight, or 4.5% of the 787-8′s initial MTOW of 219.5 tonnes, with LN7-19 being 6.1 tonnes (13,500lbs) overweight and LN20 and beyond 4 tonnes overweight, or 1.8% of its revised MTOW of 227.9 tonnes. Now LN103 is meeting both the airline-specific operating empty weight (OEW) and manufacturers’ empty weight (MEW) targets whereas LN126, the first 787-9 to be built, is slightly underweight (“Boeing 787 is a dream come true, again.“, 26th Apr, 13).
Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at Boeing revealed that the latest Rev L specification is already showing a stable 2018 performance standard, and LN103 meeting all weight targets is earlier than Rev K’s “several hundred kilograms” overweight target. This nevertheless cannot hide the fact that it took Boeing nearly 6 years to get this overweight issue resolved since the final assembly of the first 787 began in May 2007.
Moreover, the Airbus A350 XWB programme is clearly gaining momentum and winning customer confidence, especially on the 350-seat A350-1000 variant after its redesign in 2011 that saw its range being boosted by 400nm to 8,400nm (nautical miles) through the extension of trailing edge and high-lift devices, an increase in thrust produced by the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines to 97,000lbs from 93,000lbs as well as an increase in the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) to 308 tonnes from 298 tonnes.
Despite the performance improvement meaning its entry into service (EIS) has been delayed by 2 years to mid-2017, the redesigned A350-1000 won a significant endorsement from Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways in placing an order for 26 examples in July 2012, which helped end an order drought and kicked start a reversal of fortunes for the aircraft. It has since gained traction with Qatar Airways, whose outspoken chief executive Akbar Al-baker is one of the most vociferous critics of the aircraft, converting orders for 20 A350-800s into 17 additional orders for the largest -1000 variant and 3 extra orders for the baseline -900 version. Lessor Air Lease Corporation (ALC), whose founder Steven Udvar-Hazy is another vocal critic of the plane, placed an order for 5 examples this February.
The watershed moment came on 22 April, when International Airlines Group (IAG) unit British Airways (BA)signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for 18 Airbus A350-1000s plus another 18 on options. IAG also secured A350 delivery slots for its Spanish unit Iberia, upon which the completion of a restructuring programme will see it exercise those slots on either the A350 or 787 Dreamliner in another deal where BA exercised 18 787 options (“International Airlines Group entering a new dawn in 2013“, 17th Apr, 13).
It was a blow for Boeing, since British Airways had an exclusive Boeing long-haul fleet for decades, albeit it ordered 12 Airbus A380 superjumbos in 2007 of which the first delivery is due this July and the carrier made clear that it is inevitable that the 777-9X will be ordered at some point in the future.
“The A350-1000 will bring many benefits to our fleet. Its size and range will be an excellent fit for our existing network and, with lower unit costs, there is an opportunity to operate a new range of destinations profitably. This will not only bring greater flexibility to our network but also more choice for our customers,” International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh said.
“This order will also secure jobs in Britain and Spain. The A350′s wings are made in Britain while its horizontal tail plane, horizontal tail plane boxes and lower wing covers are made in Spain. Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines are assembled in Britain,” Walsh elaborated.
Though the devil is in the details. Having consumed all buffers built in the programme, any “unknown unknowns” would cause a further delivery delay in an aircraft that is already 1.5 years late. Airbus’ parent European Aeronautics, Defence & Space Co. (EADS) has warned in its first-quarter earnings release on 14 May that “the A350 XWB programme remains challenging. Any schedule change could lead to an increasingly higher impact on provisions”.
The biggest challenge facing the A350 programme today, the Airbus sources say, is an ambitious production ramp-up to 10 per month 4 years after the service entry of the A350-900, or late-2018 while managing changes on the production line and incorporating any lessons learnt from the A350-900 flight testing. While doing so will help the most overweight variant, the shrunk -800 variant meet its weight and fuel burn specification, such an incorporation of any discoveries made during the flight testing process would inevitably add to the 40% change in cabin parts planned from Batch 2 to Batch 3 from MSN017 onwards in addition to the significant change to fuselage components planned.
737 MAX to recover lost ground against A320neo Meanwhile, Boeing lost at least some grounds to the re-engined Airbus A320neo (new engine option) family, which has garnered 2,195 firm orders since its launch on 1 December, 2010. The European plane-maker has been successful in unlocking the Boeing 737 NG (Next-Generation) customer base, with Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) and Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines placing 100 and 75 orders, respectively, not to mention the high-profile defection by American Airlines (AA) in ordering 130 A321neos that culminated in the 737 re-engining decision in the first place. Indonesia’s Lion Air also defected this March in ordering a total of 234 Airbus A320 family aircraft, including 109 A320neos and 65 A321neos.
Regardless of whether the Lion Air Airbus A320 order was influenced by what Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner revealed as a lift in ban on the European Union’s (EU) no-fly list or “it looks like they are going to get a ticket from Europe [in opening a jet maintenance facility]“, there is no denial that Boeing only unlocked one existing Airbus A320ceo (current engine option) customer – Singapore Airlines’ SilkAir unit with 31 Boeing 737 MAX 8s on order.
The CFM Leap-1B-powered Boeing 737 MAX currently has a paltry market share of only 38.5% in the re-engined narrowbody battle, for which Airbus and its supporters were quick to lay claims that the A320neo is technically superior with a choice of 2 architecturally different engines in the CFM Leap-1A or the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PW1100G geared turbofan (GTF) engines.
Still, the lost ground could be regained.
For one, the 737 MAX now has 1,376 firm orders almost 22 months after its launch on 30 August, 2011, comparable to the 1,469 received by the A320neo at the same stage.
Furthermore, the Boeing 737 MAX is progressing well with the milestone of “firm concept” being reached last November alongside the selection of Rockwell Collins and Honeywell for the 787-styled cockpit displays and electronic bleed air system, respectively. The high-speed aerodynamic lines are also defined which enables the elimination of a small bump in the nose landing gear door and Boeing Canada Winnipeg will produce the one-piece composite acoustic inner barrel on the 737 MAX’s engine nacelle inlet.
It is on course to reach the firm configuration in mid-2013. Intriguingly, AspireAviation can exclusively reveal that Boeing is looking to feature a door modification on the 737 MAX 8 which will add around 9 seats to the aircraft’s capacity of seating 162 passengers in a 2-class configuration. The door modification is likely to be a standard feature across all MAX variants, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Chicago-based Boeing say.
As a result, the 737 MAX 8 will likely seat 171 passengers while the MAX 7 and MAX 9 will accommodate 135 and 189 passengers in a 2-class configuration, respectively. Though the 737 MAX 9, capable of carrying 215 and 226 passengers in a single-class layout before and after the door modification, is unlikely to match the A321neo’s high-capacity 236-seat option enabled by the addition of an overwing exit, deactivation of door 2 and a push back in the location of door 3, as well as adopting the SpaceFlex aft-cabin configuration. Airbus claims this high-capacity configuration will reduce seat-mile costs by 5% alone.
The door modification, the same sources say, will enable the 737 MAX 8 to meet its 13% fuel burn per seat reduction target while increasing its payload/range performance with a “negligible” impact on the aircraft’s manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW).
This is consistent with a trend of modest up-gauging that saw the smallest A319neo and 737 MAX 7 garnering only 26 and 30 sales so far, respectively. Southwest Airlines earlier this month launched the 737 MAX 7 by converting 30 existing 737 NG orders into the re-engined variant that burns 12% less fuel than the 737-700 with deliveries beginning in 2019.
The door modification is seen as pivotal in winning the sales campaigns of Ryanair and easyJet, with easyJet likely to defect from Airbus A320 family aircraft to the Boeing 737 NG (Next-Generation), 737 MAX and the Bombardier CSeries, independent sources from Airbus and Boeing confirmed. easyJet will use the Bombardier CSeries to expand in second-tier European cities while the 737 MAX will be used to expand in major European cities.
For Irish low-cost carrier (LCC) Ryanair, which has committed to buy 175 Boeing 737-800s worthing US$15.6 billion on 20 March, such a modest up-gauging without any additional increase in weight makes the difference in purchasing 100-200 737 MAXs by year-end in justifying the higher airport charges as a result of the 737 MAX 8′s 2.49 tonnes (5,500lbs) increase in manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) and a 7,000lbs increase in maximum take-off weight (MTOW).
This indicates Boeing will continue to tout its weight advantage against all A320neo variants, which is the primary driver behind a smaller engine fan diameter at 69.4 inches (176.3cm) compared to the 78in and 81in fan diameters for the A320neo’s CFM Leap-1A and PW1100G PurePower engines, respectively. The maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of the 737 MAX 9 will now be around 4.5 tonnes less than the A321neo, Boeing Capital Corporation (BCC) managing director (MD) of aircraft programmes and valuations Brad Till noted in a May 7 investor and analyst conference in New York.
Image Courtesy of Boeing
From Boeing’s standpoint, the door modification will extend the 737 MAX’s payload/range and operating cost advantages. For instance, the 171-seat 737 MAX 8 will now be able to carry 21 more passengers than the 150-seat A320neo with a 325nm (nautical miles) longer range at 3,620nm compared to the A320neo’s range of 3,295nm. Likewise, the 135-seat 737 MAX 7 will have a range of 3,800nm, 240nm more than the 126-seat A319neo and the 189-seat 737 MAX 9 now flies 485nm further than the 183-seat A321neo with a range of 3,595nm (“Boeing 737 MAX ups the ante in dogfight with A320neo“, 20th Jul, 12). This will help Boeing 737 MAX 8 meet the declared 8% per seat cash operating cost (COC) advantage against the A320neo on a 500nm sector, although Aspire Aviation maintains its belief that the 737 MAX 8′s all-in COC advantage against the A320neo will only be 2%.
The 737 MAX’s perceived payload/range advantage is likely to be heavily contested by Airbus as always the case, however. Airbus has already put the respective ranges of its 124-seat A319neo, 150-seat A320neo and 185-seat A321neo at 4,200nm, 3,760nm and 3,760nm; let alone the recent high-capacity 236-seat option for the A321neo will make its seat-mile cost unrivalled and widen its lead against a high-capacity 126-seat 737-900ER with the door modification.
No matter what Airbus and Boeing assert in these apple-to-orange comparisons as the former uses a 800nm mission for its assumptions and the latter 500nm, the underlying fact remains that the door modification on the 737 MAX will help improve its competitiveness.
Another advantage the Boeing 737 MAX has arguably lies in slots availability and the flexibility of its production system, as the A320neo is now fully booked in 2019.
“For a very large order, we could go back to existing customers and see if they could move some of their positions. If someone wants 100 planes, I’ll go to customers who already have the planes in their backlog and see if I can get them to move their positions. On ramp-up of a new programme you don’t overbook because everyone wants to fly,” Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy commented.
Boeing has ramped up the 737 production to 38 airplanes per month and is scheduled to hit the 42 airplanes per month target in the first half of 2014, while a third line at Renton will assemble the 737 MAX before the existing 2 lines transition to the MAX production. Boeing executives have commented last week that a decision on production ramp-up beyond 42 per month could be made after a similar decision on the 787 is taken.
In the meantime, Airbus is already producing A320 family aircraft at a monthly production rate of 42 and is studying the possibility of going up to 44 units per month provided that the supply chain is ready. It has broken ground on April 8 at the US$600 million A320 final assembly line (FAL) in Mobile, Alabama, where the first A320 assembled for jetBlue will begin its final assembly in 2015 and be delivered in 2016. The plant will double Airbus’ annual investment of US$12 billion in the US and has the capability of producing up to 4 airplanes per month.
“It represents the real transformation of Airbus into a truly global company. While Airbus has deep European roots, we have always seen ourselves as citizens of the world,” Airbus president and chief executive Fabrice Brégier said.
Transformational it may be, it also represents considerable strategic risk. Aspire Aviation thinks any sound business investment such as the Mobile FAL has to withstand both ups and downs in the highly cyclical original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cycle and when such downturn occurs, its existing FALs in Toulouse and Hamburg are less vulnerable to cuts with national interests involved such as Germany withholding €500 million loans to the A350 owing to a feud on the jet’s work allocation, so is its Tianjin FALC in order to secure Chinese orders such as Air China ordering 60 A320s and its Shenzhen Airlines subsidiary ordering another 40 in a US$8.9 billion deal announced last week.
In terms of supply chain and logistics, the new Mobile A320 final assembly line will be distant from where major sections are shipped in Europe and has its new learning curve, while Boeing will be able to achieve a production ramp-up beyond 42 aircraft per month with 3 lines at Renton and be arguably more flexible in responding to a change in market demand.
All in all, Aspire Aviation forecasts a balanced 50/50 re-engined narrowbody market between Airbus and Boeing and that Boeing will start to catch up despite the A320neo’s early success. The 737 MAX will retain a 2% all-in cash operating cost (COC) advantage against the A320neo and is nevertheless lighter than its counterparts. The latest door modification, likely to add 9 seats to each 737 MAX variant, will further improve its market appeal and help recoup any lost grounds to the A320neo.
Image Courtesy of Boeing
Boeing’s bracketing strategy: “boxing in” AirbusIn the widebody segment, Boeing is turning the corner from the 3-month long 787 grounding since January 16, which has returned to service onboard an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 flight from Addis Ababa to the neighbouring Kenyan capital Nairobi on April 27. Other carriers followed, with Qatar Airways flying the aircraft again after incurring US$200 million loss in foregone revenue, Air India on May 15 and the latest United Airlines with UA1 flying on the Houston-Chicago O’Hare International route May 20.
At press time all 6 United Airlines Boeing 787s, 17 and 7 examples in the fleets of All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) have already been fitted with the modified battery system containing “a three-layer protection”. Modification work on the worldwide 787 Dreamliner fleet will be complete sometime this week, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner said at Boeing’s annual investor day last Wednesday.
ANA and JAL plan to resume scheduled 787 services on 1 June despite a loose nut resulted in heat damage on the electrical panel of an ANA 787 test flight from Sapporo to Tokyo on May 4. In fact, ANA re-commenced its 787 commercial operation with 787 flight to Chitose from Tokyo Haneda on 26 May. LOT Polish Airlines will resume its 787 operation on the Warsaw-Chicago route from June 5 onwards and expects to have 5 787s in its fleet by August. Australia’s Jetstar expects to receive its first 787, LN123, in late-September with 2 more examples arriving before year-end whereas Air India is receiving 8 more 787s in the same timeframe. Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) will also receive its first example 2 months late on 27 or 28 June with 2 more joining its fleet before year-end, Bloomberg reported.
Now that the 787s are swinging back into actions and returning to the skies to where they belong, Boeing could focus on formalising its “bracketing” widebody strategy to “box in” Airbus.
The cornerstone of such a “bracketing” strategy would be the much-anticipated 777X at the top end, of which Boeing’s board of director gave its authority to offer (ATO) on May 1.
“We’ve made great progress in our development work and we are beginning to discuss additional technical, pricing and schedule details with customers regarding 777X. The next step for 777X may include offering the airplane to customers and eventual launch as a committed airplane programme,” Boeing spokeswoman Karen Crabtree said.
These progresses are evident in the naming of Perry Moore to lead the 777X wing team, Gary Hubert 777X’s business manager and Paul Weaver the director of supplier management by Boeing 777X programme vice president (VP) Bob Feldmann on 10 May.
“It’s an exciting time as we begin to define the world’s next great airplane,” Feldmann said in an internal memo leaked to The Seattle Times.
“Our customers have choices in the marketplace, so it is imperative that we dependably innovate. The reputation of the 777 programme and its continued market dominance are at stake,” Feldmann warned.
Feldmann is right. Following the defection of British Airways, Japan Airlines (JAL) may place an order for 20 Airbus A350-1000s as early as September and negotiation with All Nippon Airways (ANA) is advancing, Bloomberg said. United Airlines is also known to be discussing an A350-1000 order with Airbus and Dubai-based Emirates Airline is understood to start re-evaluating the A350-1000s after its smaller sibling’s first flight.
For the 777X and its market dominance, the biggest threat would come from an increased availability in the 350-seat A350-1000, as the entry into service (EIS) of the 777X would be some 2 years behind that of the A350-1000′s in mid-2017. In light of stubbornly high oil prices and the large replacement need of the Boeing 747-400 jumbo, the A350-1000 would be an alternative for airlines to retire their ageing fleets as fast as possible, not to mention splitting the replacement order between the A350-1000 and 777-9X would hedge risks of delivery delays and enable carriers to obtain more favourable pricing.
Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy has already said that the only barrier preventing more A350-1000 orders is the lack of delivery slots and European Aeronautics, Defence & Space Co. (EADS) chief financial officer (CFO) Harald Wilhelm said recently that Airbus will make a decision on an A350-1000 production ramp-up later this year.
“We’ve been talking about A350-1000 incremental capacity. No decision has been taken on that yet. This is clearly on the radar screen for later this year. And with such important endorsements on the -1000 we feel encouraged to look into that,” Wilhelm was quoted as saying.
Therefore the top priority for Boeing is to halt the rise of the 350-seat A350-1000 by all means and prevent the aircraft from gaining any further traction from now on.
And Boeing seems to be doing just that. In order to placate Japanese carriers JAL and ANA over their perceived over-reliance on a single supplier, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at the Chicago-based plane-maker say the 777X’s 4th-generation carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) wing is likely to be made in Japan, before being transported by ship to Everett for final assembly.
Winning the prize of the 777X’s CFRP wings would be precious for Japan, not only because it is the centrepiece of the major revamp, but also of the fact that it is the largest wing ever built for a Boeing aircraft. The 71.1m (233.4ft) CFRP wings will also feature a folding wingtip on its outermost 11ft (3.35m) with a hydraulics actuator and a piano-type topside hinge – a novelty feature designed to make the 777-9X an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Code E aircraft at the gate and Code F aircraft while on the runway (“Boeing 777X to spark mini-jumbo war“, 28th Mar, 13).
The 777X’s folding wingtip will differ from the idea studied for the original 777-200 in 1995 and contain no moveable parts. The weight penalty involved will be 800lbs (362.8kg), compared to the 3,200lbs (1.45 tonnes) in the original study. There will be two hinges located at where the front and rear wing spars meet the top wing cover and locking pins are going to be featured where the spars meet the lower wing cover.
The 787-styled supercritical wing, which provides a 12% improvement in lift-to-drag (L/D) ratio and adds 30m² (322.9ft²) wing area to the 777-300ER’s 436.8m², is so aerodynamically efficient and light such that the airframe/engine combination will match the efficiency seen on the 787 Dreamliner.
That enables the range of the 777X to be boosted to 8,100nm (nautical miles) with the thrust increase in the 131.5in GE9X engine from 99,500lbs to 103,000lbs, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Boeing said. The 16-blade GE9X will be smaller than the 132.5in GE90-115B engine while having a “very close” to 10% lower engine specific fuel consumption (SFC).
While this gives a thrust-to-MTOW (maximum take-off weight) ratio of 0.6 for the 777-9X, lower than the 0.627 ratio for the A350-900 and 0.63 for the A350-1000, as well as the 777-300ER’s 0.656, this does not mean that the 777-9X is underpowered. On the contrary, it is a testament to how optimised the 777-9X will be when it comes to the combination of its CFRP wings, engines and airframe.
Firstly, the 407-seat 777-9X is 4% more weight efficient than the 350-seat A350-1000 in terms of the MTOW per seat metric with the -9X’s MTOW at 344 tonnes and the A350-1000′s at 308 tonnes. Coupled with the more aerodynamically efficient wing on the 777X, it is apparent on the reason why the 777X has a 4.76% less thrust-to-MTOW ratio than the A350-1000: less weight efficient means the A350-1000 needs more power.
Secondly, the 0.76% discrepancy between the weight efficiency advantage and the thrust-to-MTOW difference is explained by the non-linear relationship between thrust, weight and engine fan size. The more weight efficient 777-9X has a relatively less demanding thrust requirement, leading to a smaller engine fan size that creates less drag and weighs less, which in turn reduces the thrust requirement further.
This speaks volume to the superior economic performance that the 407-seat 777-9X will have over the 350-seat A350-1000, which Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) vice president (VP) of marketing and business development Mike Bair said in a May 7 investor and analyst conference in New York as having the lowest fuel burn per seat of any airplane.
The likely decision for the 777X’s wing to be made in Japan is also driven by affordability as Boeing is not able to produce such a large CFRP wing at a cost similar to Japan. Boeing has asked suppliers to reduce costs on the 777X as the per unit cost is still somewhat higher than the accounting block average of the 777 programme.
“Control of the recurring cost of the airplane and the non-recurring cost of the development programme will demand that we raise the bar on productivity and balance programme requirements,” Boeing 777X vice president (VP) Bob Feldmann noted.
3-class pax no.
Overall length (m)
Cabin Width (m)
Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84
Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97
General Electric GE90-115B
General Electric GE9X
General Electric GE9X
General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2
Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN
*Depends on Boeing product development study outcome Sources: Airbus, Boeing, Aspire Aviation estimates
Though customer response towards the 777X has been tremendously positive, such that it is hopeful a formal launch later this year will all but turn the table on the A350-1000.
Qatar Airways has already expressed its wish to be the launch customer for the 777X, while Emirates says it will have 40-50 777-300ERs to be phased out by the time the 777-9X enters service in mid-2019, following a 9-month flight test programme which ends in late third-quarter 2018 and a fourth-quarter 2017 roll-out.
“We would definitely want to be the launch customer. We hope to be one of the launch customers. We are very keen on the 777-8X and -9X aircraft and we are receiving presentations from Boeing in this regard,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al-baker told Reuters.
“We’re working closely to get to specifications we’re happy with. That means layouts, the seats, the galleys, getting the weights right, getting the fuel burn,” Emirates president Tim Clark said in a Bloomberg interview.
Contrary to media reports, however, Boeing still has not made a firm decision on whether the 777-8X will have a range of 8,100nm (nautical miles) and directly take on the 350-seat A350-1000 or a range of 9,480nm, thus replacing the 777-200LR.
A key question lies in whether it is worthwhile to build a 9,480nm range 777-200LR replacement for a niche market that sees only 59 examples being sold as of April 2013 whereas the 777-300ER has sold 687 pieces so far, and as a standalone -8LX variant or as the -8X.
Aspire Aviation strongly thinks giving the 777-8X a 9,480nm range and making it a 777-200LR replacement makes sense, as a 353-seat -8X competing head-to-head against the A350-1000, might not be as competitive and efficient against Airbus’ optimised 350-seat platform with a lighter carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) airframe, despite Boeing officials claiming the 8,100nm 777-8X’s seat-mile cost will be “at least on par” with the A350-1000. In addition, a 9,480nm 777-8X would form the perfect platform for a 777X Freighter which would be available from 2025 onwards in a presentation made to Lufthansa, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Boeing revealed.
Also, the 52 extra seats on the 353-seat 777-8X due to a stretch in fuselage to 69.55m from the 301-seat 777-200LR’s 63.7m, may make previously economically unfeasible ultra long-haul routes commercially viable, such as the Sydney-London Heathrow route while having a 14%-16% lower block fuel burn per seat. Currently, the benefits of charging a price premium over a non-stop trip between Sydney and London Heathrow could not outweigh the cost of stopping over at Singapore or Dubai and the associated landing, parking and overflight charges. A 5.85m stretch in fuselage accommodating 52 more premium passengers and more revenue cargo may yet tilt the balance in favour of direct flights. Though Boeing has more work to do, not only in presenting an overwhelming business case to airlines that the significant fuel penalty in burning fuel to carry more fuel is minimised, but also in changing the perceptions of business travellers towards such excruciatingly long flights.
Most importantly, rather than relying on the 353-seat 777-8X to compete directly with the A350-1000, Boeing could confidently bank on a modest up-gauging to the 407-seat segment and rely on the -9X to do the job.
In doing so, airlines could grow its capacity organically without compromising on flight frequency nor revenue cargo volume. Airbus A380 proponents usually take the example of Cathay Pacific’s 5 daily flights to London Heathrow as a case in point where deploying the A380 makes sense. Cathay has 2 London flights, CX255 and CX251, departing 1 hour within each other and another pair, CX239 and CX237, departing in 20 minutes of each other. But this ignores the loss in revenue caused by spill-over demand from price-inelastic walk-up business travellers to other airlines.
As for revenue cargo volume, the 76.48m long 777-9X promises to increase this sellable cargo space still further where underbelly cargo could earn a profit margin as high as 60%-70%, whereas the 747-8I Intercontinental has a small revenue cargo volume of 3,895ft³ out of a total cargo volume of 6,345ft³, and the A380 a revenue cargo volume of 2,995ft³ from a total cargo volume of 5,875ft³. This makes the 777-9X ideal for carriers such as Cathay Pacific which carries 70% of all its cargoes in passenger aircraft’s belly space, Korean Air and Emirates Airline.
Such a lack of revenue cargo volume, combined with the lowest fuel burn per seat at 21% lower than the 777-300ER, a 16% lower cash operating cost (COC) and the lowest seat-mile cost previously only offered by very large airplanes (VLAs), are to blame for the dwindling A380 and 747-8I Intercontinental backlogs and lacklustre demands for them.
The A380 has a backlog of 101 aircraft after selling only 262 examples since December 2000 and European Aeronautics, Defence & Space Co. (EADS) chief financial officer (CFO) Harald Wilhelm disclosed that there are open A380 delivery slots “clearly in single digits” in 2015.
“There are still some slots to be booked from 2015 so this is a top priority for John and his team. Our view on the A380 is unchanged. This asset has its place,” Wilhelm insisted.
The 747-8I Intercontinental is not faring any better. It only has a backlog of 26 airplanes and has trimmed back its production rate from 2 per month to 1.75 per month despite an interest from Cargolux in ordering additional 747-8F freighters to replace ageing 747-400Fs in the future. The 747-8I Intercontinental’s economics is not helping either. The performance improvement package (PIP) to its General Electric GEnx-2B engine which claws back 2.7% in engine specific fuel consumption (SFC) shortfall, coupled with weight reduction to early overweight airframes that are 2,300kg heavier than specification, as well as the activation of the tail fuel tank, will only bring the 747-8I’s seat-mile cost to the same as today’s 777-300ER.
But the 777-9X has leapt forward and the 1.8% improvement in 747-8I block fuel burn following a 1.5% improvement since its entry into service (EIS) nearly 2 years ago is insufficient to make it competitive with the game-changing 777-9X. After all, why bother buying a VLA that is highly susceptible to global economic volatility and difficult to fill while the 777-9X offers better seat-mile costs, significantly more revenue cargo volume and organic growth opportunities consistent with a 5% annual growth in worldwide passenger traffic and 6.4% annual growth in Asia/Pacific traffic?
Image Courtesy of Boeing
The “Dream” is now back on track On the other hand, the 787 Dreamliner is now back on track from the battery woes “detour”, during which Boeing took the time to address its auxiliary power unit (APU) overheating issue and a string of other teething problems such as redesigning the electrical panel.
More and more evidence is emerging to support the notion that the 787 is making significant progress, especially in its production system which rolled out the first 787 produced at the 7 units per month rate on May 9. Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner said last Wednesday that there is less than 1% travelled work and parts shortages are at a record low in the 787 production system, thereby resulting in a 25% reduction in “cost of quality”. The cost per job at Everett and Charleston also plunged by 39% and 45%, respectively.
Investment bank Credit Suisse forecasts the cash cost of LN110 is at US$155 million, a 61% reduction from the LN8′s US$400 million cash cost while the first 787-9, LN126, will cost US$146.6 million to produce with a deferred production cost of US$37 million. The deferred production cost will peak at US$20.2 billion in the first-quarter of 2015, by which time the 787 will break even on LN283 with a US$109.7 million unit cost, it reckons. The deferred production cost will be a net US$1.7 billion and US$1.36 billion use of cash in this year and the next, but will become a US$1.25 billion source of cash in 2015. The cash cost will ultimately diminish to just US$76.1 million at the end of the 1,100 accounting block, it notes in a 20 May research report.
“We estimate ~70-75% of 787 work is outsourced – making progress on the outsourced portion of the curve more important than it has been on prior programmes with lower outsourcing. The largest opportunity in this bucket, in our view, is price step-downs at suppliers. Because Boeing still has a portion of work not under contract (owing to suppliers, and Boeing, wanting to see learning curve progress before agreeing to certain terms, in some instances), there remains some opportunity to Boeing for future cost reduction. We also believe that work not under contract is not constrained to one part of the airplane, and includes structures, systems, and other areas, like interiors,” Credit Suisse writes in the research note.
“Today, Boeing provided concrete examples of how it is lowering unit costs by pulling work from inside the aircraft and creating ‘feeder lines’ to build monolithic parts that are then installed into the aircraft. The first feeder line part in aft body was completed on LN126, and management noted 5 large segments that it can take off in aft and mid body that will result in greater unit cost improvement. BA noted establishing feeder lines can take thousands of hours off the assembly, reducing costs and speeding flow times,” the Swiss investment bank said in a field report from Charleston on 21 May.
Backed by these solid progresses, Boeing could now move on to bracket the lower-end of the Airbus product line with the 323-seat 787-10X Dreamliner, whose “Gate 4″ formal launch is firstly reported by Aspire Aviationto be in June 2013.
When launched, the Boeing 787-10X Dreamliner will unleash a pent-up demand which replaces both the A330-200s, -300s and some 777-200ERs in one fell swoop. The 6,800-7,000 nm (nautical miles) 787-10X is going to cover over 90% of the world’s twin-aisle flights while burning 25% less fuel per seat than the A330-300 and 13% less fuel per seat than the A350-900, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) vice president (VP) of marketing and business development Mike Bair said on May 7.
For intra-regional flights within Asia, the 787-10X will offer a far more superior payload/range performance than the 242-tonne A330-300, featuring 10.9% more range than the 6,400nm range of its Airbus counterpart and carrying 58 more passengers, let alone the ability to hold 2 more LD-3 containers in the forward and aft fuselage over the 787-9, meaning the 787-10X will be able to hold 22 and 18 LD-3 containers in the forward and aft fuselage with a 6,400ft³ main cargo volume and a total cargo volume of around 6,798ft³ – a 18.2% larger cargo volume than the 5,751ft³ total cargo volume of the A330-300.
The cargo volume advantage widens to a whopping 41.6% against the 242-tonne A330-200, of which the 787-10X will provide unparalleled seat-mile costs and cash operating costs (COC) while carrying 70 more passengers over a medium-to-long-haul sector where the 8,100nm range of the A350-900 and the 777-200ER’s 7,725nm range are not required. The 787-10X’s 7,000nm range means it will be able to cover 86% and 91% of all A350-900 and 777-200ER missions, while its lighter airframe as a result of a 24% smaller empennage and a 20% smaller wing is going to translate into a 10% lower cash operating cost (COC), a 4% lower relative trip cost and a 8% lower relative seat-mile cost on a 6,000nm mission than the A350-900.
Carriers are already eyeing the 787-10X for transatlantic crossing, with British Airways (BA) likely to confirm the 18 newly-exercised options as 787-10X orders, replacing the oneworld carrier’s 747-400s that will lead to a 35% lower block fuel burn per seat. Routes eyed by British Airways possibly include the 5,965nm, 5,065nm, 4,954nm long flights from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in addition to the 4,080nm, 4,713nm and 4,637nm long flights to Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The acknowledgement that had there not been the 787 grounding, the 787-10X most probably would have been launched already confirms the strong business case of the 787-10X.
One needs look no further than the large customer base of the A330s worldwide, with Cathay Pacific and its Dragonair unit operating 54 examples and have another 11 units on order; Singapore Airlines (SIA) has 20 in its fleet and 14 on order; Air China 33, Delta Air Lines 32, Qatar Airways 29, China Eastern Airlines (CEA) 27, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and Emirates 26 each, Thai Airways and Etihad Airways 25 each, China Southern Airlines 24, Korean Air 23 and China Airlines 21, just to name a few.
As fuel now accounts for 40% of an airline’s operating expenses and as early-built A330s begin to age such as those with Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the lowball A330 pricing Airbus is pitching is unlikely to make the equation work over the longer term.
Image Courtesy of Boeing
As a result, making an abundant number of delivery slots available by the time it enters into service in 2018 is the prerequisite of realising the 787-10X’s fullest potential and make this “bracketing” strategy most effective. Aspire Aviation reiterates its view that ramping up the 787 production rate beyond 10 units a month is inevitable and a must. Ramping up to 12 per month is within reach without significant financial outlays (“Boeing is in no rush to fast-track widebody strategy“, 27th Nov, 12), although an eventual ramp-up to 14 aircraft per month would demand investment and represent a higher jump in risks involved.
“We haven’t decided to do that yet, because we’re just trying to keep our feet underneath us. That’s one thing we could do to bring the backlog down and make spaces for people who want to buy the aircraft,” Boeing president and chief executive Jim McNerney said in a Bloomberg interview onboard UA1, United Airlines’ inaugural 787 flight since the 787 grounding.
To that end, aerospace analysts at investment bank Credit Suisse point to the tooling already in place at Charleston, South Carolina final assembly line (FAL) that will enable Boeing to achieve a production rate of 12 a month.
“Interestingly, SC final assembly already has tooling in place for 5/mth, implying upside to SC’s 3/mth and Boeing’s 10/mth. However, it appears getting to a rate >10/mth in aft body fabrication would be more challenging in the near-term given space constraints and the need for a 2nd autoclave,” the Swiss investment bank said in a 21st May note to its clients.
Moreover, the lack of a direct competitor from Airbus over the 787-10X, coupled with the intrinsic values that the -10X creates, will very likely see it command a premium, thereby improving the profitability of the 787 programme as a whole with the foundation over the double-stretching work already laid by the -9 stretch. As it currently stands, the 787-10X is a simple “double stretch” with the same wing as the -8 and -9 while a tail skid is being added to protect it against the risk of a tail strike.
Further factoring in a production ramp-up to 14 aircraft per month, which enables the 787 programme to spread overhead, rent and electricity expenses over a larger quantity of aircraft in a fixed timeframe, this will be a “one-two punch” to the 787′s production cost, thus making the 787 learning curve even steeper.
“Increasing the rate to 14 would enable Boeing to progress through its accounting blocks 40% quicker than at 10, and consequently allow it to allocate less cost to each aircraft. This, in turn, should yield further improvement in the cash cost of the 787,” Credit Suisse predicts in a special report on the 787 learning curve.
“Should Boeing formally introduce the 787-10, it would likely extend the accounting pool upward from the 1,100 units now assumed, which would improve the programme margin curves (because you have more lower cost airplanes at the back-end of the programme), but would likely be detrimental to the nearer-term unit margin, and cash, given the incremental funding required for the 787-10 (Boeing commented on its Q1 call that the cost and technical risk of doing the 787-10 is “not that high”) and given that the first 787-10s off the lines will cost more to build (in the same way as for the 787-9. Both derivatives could be thought of as having their own mini learning curves),” the investment bank concludes.
All told, there are grounds for Boeing to be optimistic that it will regain the lost grounds on all fronts. On the narrowbody front, the 737 MAX door modification will increase the capacity on all variants by 9 seats, thereby helping the 737 MAX 8 meet its 13% fuel burn per seat reduction target and appeal to customers such as Ryanair and easyJet where such a higher revenue potential outweighs the increase in weight of the re-engined industry workhorse. Early availability will also be key to unlocking the Airbus A320ceo (current engine option) customer base, possibly made possible through the greater use of its third 737 line in Renton, thus rebalancing the re-engined narrowbody market despite the A320neo’s early success.
Regarding its widebody strategy, its “bracketing” strategy to “box in” Airbus has some merits. The 777-9X promises a growth opportunity for Asia/Pacific and Middle East airlines while offering a seat-mile cost compatible with or better than the very large airplanes (VLAs) such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8I Intercontinental without the significant inherent risks the VLAs carry. It is also more weight efficient than the A350-1000 and thus requires less power, thanks to the supercritical 4th-generation carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) wings. The common type rating with the 787, “internal widening” of the cabin to accommodate a 10-abreast configuration more comfortably, and 787-sized windows are also features attractive to airlines and passengers alike.
At the lower end of the segment, the 787-10X looks poised to become an efficiency machine that is able to replace the A330-200, -300 and some 777-200ERs with a 25% lower fuel burn per seat and undercut the A350-900 on routes where its extra range is not needed.
“[The 777-8X] will go up against the A350-1000 while the 9X will be kind of sitting there by itself. We’ve got them boxed in on the A350 at the top and we’ve got them boxed in at the bottom with the 787,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner declared.
“These aircraft are quite defined right now. We know exactly what they are. We’re just tweaking things as we move forward. We’re in a lot more detailed discussions probably than you guys realise with our customers right now,” Conner argued.
Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney concurred, saying “it’ll take another 5, 6 or 7 years before they can respond to this airplane [777X]. We’re way ahead of them and it’s going to be fun”.
Fun in the future it may be, recovering the lost grounds and repairing the self-inflicted damage caused by the 787 grounding in the interim are undoubtedly less fun.