NTSB Report Comes Today: The National Transportation Safety Board issues its preliminary report on the Boeing 787 JAL fire today, around 11am ET. Here is the NTSB 787 page that has been updated throughout the process. We’re traveling and may not be able to pick up the report as it comes out, so Readers, please do so and post in Comments; we’ll upgrade to a fresh post when able.
FAA readies OK for 787 plan: The FAA is expected to give Boeing the green light to begin implementing its proposed plans to fix the 787 battery issues. We expect this approval to be Friday or next week. Extensive testing will be required, but the length remains unclear. The NTSB report may or may not have implications.
Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation (the FAA is part of DOT), still has questions. See this Wall Street Journal article via Google News, so it should be readable to all. A key paragraph:
[P]ushback against a quick final decision from Mr. LaHood—who oversees the FAA and must sign off on any package of fixes—and from regulators in Japan threatens to delay the more important resumption of Dreamliner commercial flights for months, according to industry and government officials. (Emphasis added.)
A team of FAA technical experts is urging preliminary approval of Boeing’s plan, and FAA chief Michael Huerta appears likely to agree within a week or so, the officials said. That would establish a framework that could allow Boeing to begin test flights as soon as the third week in March. Results from those flights would have to be analyzed by agency officials and reviewed by Secretary LaHood and his staff before Boeing could seek permission to retrofit aircraft and seek new certification. Routine certification tests for batteries take four or five weeks, according to industry officials.
A350-800 future debated: Qatar Airways’ vociferous CEO, Akbar Al-Baker says Airbus is dropping the A350-800. Airbus says it’s not. (Also here.) Aeroturbopower has this interesting post on the subject.
Bombardier Reveals CSeries today: Bombardier will have its “reveal” of the CSeries today in a ceremony that isn’t quite a roll-out in the party-like fashion usually accompanying a new aircraft type. Rather, invited guests will visit the assembly line to see the completed aircraft. BBD isn’t taking the airplane off the production line so it doesn’t lose production time. The Wall Street Journal has this description via Google News.
Flight Global has this story in which Airbus says it remains committed to the A350-800, a sub-type that is the smallest of the A350 family and which has been the subject of much speculation that Airbus will choose not to proceed with it.
Airbus hasn’t helped matters because it’s been encouraging customers to switch to the larger A350-900. John Leahy, COO-Customers, some time ago told us the larger -900 is more profitable for Airbus and customers could get deliveries sooner.
But, according to customers we talk to, there are other reasons, too. First, according to one customer, is that Airbus is de-risking the program by getting customers to switch to the -900. The program has been delayed nearly two years and customers expect at least one more delay of three to six months to entry into service. Airbus is concentrating resources on the -900, and by switching customers from the -800, Airbus relieves the pressure on these resources.
This customer, which has switched its orders from the -800 to the -900, believes Airbus will build the -800.
Flight Global has this story which echoes what we’ve been told, citing Akbar Al-Baker of Qatar Airways: he switched from the -800 to the -900 because of the delays. But he now believes Airbus should discontinue offering the -800.
Airbus declined comment on the tie between delays and the switches.
Another customer switched its order did so simply because it likes the operating economics and revenue potential of the larger -900 better than the -800.
A key supplier, however, takes a dimmer view. The person we talked with believes Airbus will let the A350-800 go away, but this is his personal opinion and says that his company hasn’t heard anything to suggest this will be the case.
Eliminating the -800 would leave Airbus without a new technology competitor to the Boeing 787-9. Although some, including Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia, believe Airbus should proceed with an A330neo. Airbus so far dismisses such suggestions and it has not asked engine makers to consider such a possibility. But one airline fleet planner told us that he believes Airbus will one day proceed with the A330neo with an EIS of around 2020. This means Airbus would not have to ask engine makers to explore the possibility until next year or even 2014. So what is true today may or may not be true “tomorrow.”
Airbus last week announced additional gross weight upgrades and improvements to the A330-200/300 that increase range and reduce fuel burn. Aviation Week has this story about the enhancements.
This is the latest in a series of improvements taking advantage of the four year delay in the Boeing 787 program that Airbus believes will enable the airplane, which first entered service in 1994, to remain viable well into the 2020 decade.
Boeing launched the 787 in December 2003 and promptly claimed the aircraft would kill the A330. Had the aircraft entered service in May 2008 as originally planned, Boeing might have been able to make strides to do so. But delays allowed Airbus time to incorporate several Performance Improvement Packages (PIPs). The European company has sold more A330s post-787 launch than it did before.
The latest improvements give the A330-300 an anticipated range of more than 6,000nm, compared with less than 4,000nm when the airplane entered service.
We’ve been at the Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse, with about 200 others from around the globe. Here are some highlights:
A380 wing rib issues: As reported previously in various media, Tom Williams, EVP-programs, outlined the issues with the wing rib cracks. A new metal alloy was used, intended to save weight, that cracked in operations despite fatigue testing failing to discover the issue on a test airplane. Williams attributed the failure to detect the cracks to inadequate instrumentation on the test plane. The new alloy saved about 300kg. There are 60 L-brackets out of 4,000 that require inspection and only 20 are affected. The issue does not affect flight safety and the ribs can be replaced either during a C Check or during a nose-to-tail maintenance check. The “Type 2” cracks, the most serious of two types found, have to be replaced by 1,300 cycles.
A350-800/1000 sales: Boeing has been aggressively casting doubts on these two sub-types, pointing out that there have been no sales since 2008. John Leahy, COO Customers, said there haven’t been sales because he doesn’t have any delivery slots available until the end of the decade. He’s been switching some customers from the 800 to the 900, which is more profitable to Airbus. Where did he get the slots? He won’t say but in a press gaggle after his presentation, he acknowledged to an Indian journalist that Kingfisher Airlines—an A350, A320 and A380 customer—deferred all its deliveries to relieve the need for pre-delivery payments. We asked Leahy if he was re-selling the Kingfisher slots and he demurred, saying that was “confidential.”
(We note that Boeing had a long dry spell in sales of the 787 during the depths of the problems with the airplane and the backlog stretching to late this decade.)
Leahy also said Boeing’s claims that he, Leahy, doesn’t know what the -1000 “is” are false.
A320 v 737: If the war of words over the A350 wasn’t enough, Leahy—and to a lesser extent, Williams, whose focus was principally the A380—repeated the Airbus messaging begun last November at the Credit Suisse conference in New York that fan size does matter and the 737 MAX comes up short. Airbus figures the MAX at best (pre-dating the recent Boeing changes) will gain 8% over the 737NG. We asked Leahy later about the move by Boeing to take the CFM LEAP-1B fan size to 69.4 inches and to add the “Boeing Advanced Technology Winglets” (BATW) to the MAX. Boeing now claims the MAX will be a 13% improvement over the NG. Leahy, who compared the BATW with the MD-11 winglets, said Boeing will get only about one-half percent improvement from this. The 69.4 inch fan still falls short, he said.
Williams, a former engine engineer, said the hotter temperatures and ceramics technology required of the LEAP-1B, will present maintenance challenges.
Boeing 777X: The 777-8X, said to be a replacement for the 777-200, is really sized closer to the 777-300 and the 777-9X is a new class of airplane. See this story for details.
A330neo: It’s a story that won’t die: talk of re-engining the A330. But does it make sense? AirInsight completed a short report in which economics of the A330, the A330neo, the A350, the 787 and the 777 are evaluated. The results indicate that while the A330neo will have a major gain in fuel performance, and in fact will be almost equal to the 787-8 with substantially more seats for revenue opportunities, it still falls short of the 787-9 and the A350.
The A330neo, suggested by AirAsia, would mimic the minimum-change A320neo and thus be different in scope than the original A350 proposal, which was a re-engined, new-wing, new system version of the A330 (much as the 777X will be compared with the 777). Airbus says it’s not interested in the A330neo “for now” but consultant Michel Merluzeau predicted at a conference organized by the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance that Airbus will eventually proceed with the airplane.
But are the gains good enough to make sense to proceed with the project? The report is offered for sale for a modest $99.
WTO, Airbus and Boeing: It’s another story that won’t die (and do we wish it would): The US vs the EU on the illegal subsidies to Airbus. The US has stepped up its pressure to have the EU decide that the assertions by the EU that it has complied with the WTO findings are inadequate. The US wants to impose $7bn-$10bn in sanctions annually. The EU says the US is full of it.
MAX v NEO: Guy Norris at Aviation Week did his own analysis of the fluff Airbus and Boeing put out about the MAX and NEO fuel efficiency. Just goes to show you can’t believe either party. That’s why we like to rely on the analysis of the customer. Lufthansa has analyzed the MAX and NEO and told us last year (and again at ISTAT last month) it concludes there is only a two percent difference (in Boeing’s favor) between MAX and NEO, which LH said both times simply retains today’s status quo between the two OEMs. (This also throws cold water on Boeing’s claim that the NG is 8% more efficient than today’s A320.)