Cathay cancels 777F order: Cathay Pacific Airways canceled an order for eight Boeing 777Fs. CX will instead acquire three 747-8Fs, trading in four 747-400Fs to Boeing. The cargo market remains soft and Boeing is struggling to sell 747-8Fs. One person close to the program says Boeing is faced with building several white tails this year and a recent aerial photo of Paine Field at Everett did show at least two 747-8Fs with no airline markings on the flight line.
We’re concerned about the continuing soft cargo market–it’s usually a leading indicator about the direction of the passenger market. Boeing forecasts recovery in 2014 but we’re not so sure.
Speaking of 777s, Air Lease Corp picked up an order for 10 777-300ERs.
787 update: Aviation Week has an updated report on the Boeing plans to begin flight tests for the 787. There seems to be a consensus building that the earliest the aircraft might return to revenue service is late April or in May–the latter a day we forecast earlier.
Odds and Ends: Cargolux, Qatar to split; P-8A and MAX; More on Sequestration; Dodging that depth charge
Cargolux, Qatar Airways to split: Several news stories report that Qatar Airways is going to dump its 35% stake in Cargolux. The stories indicate a disagreement in the direction of Cargolux. This story is the most detailed, although it’s now a month old and out-of-date.
The day before the news broke last week, we were told that Qatar wanted to set up a Cargolux hub in Doha and decline more deliveries of Boeing 747-8Fs to Cargolux in favor of using Qatar Airways’ Boeing 777Fs. This tracks similarly with the month-old story linked above. Cargolux has eight 748Fs on order.
There is a general softness in global air cargo traffic that is causing some cargo airlines to consider deferring 748Fs as well, complicating Cargolux’s viability.
We were also told there are sharp personality differences between the Qatar and Cargolux board members that aggravated relations between the two companies.
P-8A and MAX: Bloomberg has this story that looks at an angle about the Boeing 737 MAX that hasn’t been discussed before: Boeing will stick with the NG-based P-8A Poseidon and not shift to the MAX.
Sequestration: We had a recent think piece on how sequestration might not be a bad thing in the long run because it would force the Pentagon to truly re-think its global defense strategy. This piece in Defense News, an authoritative trade publication, picks up a similar theme.
Dodging that depth charge: EADS wanted to merge with BAE Systems. BAE is the prime contractor of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet. Read this story about the HMS Astute. EADS may well have dodged that bullet–er, depth charge.
As 2012 opens, we are concerned about the increasing signs global cargo traffic is softening.
Cargo traffic is typically a leading indicator of passenger traffic, both on the decline and subsequent rise. Cargo traffic fell 25% globally at the start of the Great Recession and passenger traffic soon followed. Cargo traffic began to recover before passenger traffic as the world edged out of recession.
But now, there are several indicators cargo traffic is softening again. IATA figures show traffic is on the decline. Additionally, there have been several developments at individual airlines.
Flight Pro (aka Flight Global) has reported FedEx ordered 27 Boeing 767-300Fs for delivery from 2014 through 2018 but at the same time deferred 11 777Fs within the 2013-2018 period as cargo demand softens.
The 767s will replace MD-10s, which are more than 40 years old.
Airbus had pitched the A330-200F but it was considered “too much airplane” for FDX. FDX also evaluated the potential 767-400F, but a FDX official told us at ISTAT Barcelona Boeing did not want to proceed with this new variant and risk impacting the USAF KC-46A tanker development. The KC-46A is a derivative of the 767-200, called the 767-2C.
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.