What’s the A330NEO got that others don’t?

September 16, 2014 on 8:41 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Price and that’s about it.

It’s got more than the old A330 in the sense that every vehicle enjoys a new, modern engine.  The A330 is positioned as being a still young aircraft when, in fact, it’s pretty old these days.  The technology that the A330/A340 airplanes got was solidly from the 1980′s and wasn’t that innovative even then.  Remember that it was designed to replace Airbus’ A300/A310 aircraft (partly) and designed to compete against the 767 and DC-10.

Airbus didn’t have its sights on the 777 which was a couple of years behind it in development.  In fact, the 777 was more a response to the A330/A340 and MD-11.

So the point I would make is this:  There is a reason why the 767 isn’t selling anymore.  Same for the 757.

There was also reason why Airbus wanted to sell an A330 Tanker to the US Air Force:  It would keep a production line running for a while.

If the A330NEO was as good as the 787, it wouldn’t be immediately advertised for considerably less money.  And for certain, if that kind of performance was what all airlines were looking for, Airbus wouldn’t have been strong armed into making the A350.  In fact, it’s notable that the original A350 was a lot more an A330NEO than anything else.

The A330NEO is a response to a few airlines who would like to have more A330 airplanes but with a little bit better price.  Delta, for instance, wants some.  A few other airlines will order them as well and if the A330NEO is done right, it might even be profitable for Airbus.

But it’s not a revolution.  It’s barely an evolution.  I strongly suspect it will be a 767-400 for Airbus which means that it will keep some customers happy and in the Airbus camp but let’s put away this talk that 1000 Airbus A330NEOs will be sold.  Only 1100 A330 airplanes have been delivered to date so far.

This is a bridge airplane to keep some people happy for a while so Airbus can figure out what to do with its product line gaps.  Presently, the A350 isn’t a 777 (new or old) and the smallest variant, the A350-800 is highly unattractive to customers because it offers no benefit over the A350-900.  Airbus has nothing new to fill the gap between the A321NEO and the A350-900 and that’s a big gap.

So, for now, the A330NEO will fill that gap.  Sort of.  Kind of.

 

 

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Emirates leaves Airbus with a black eye

June 13, 2014 on 12:51 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Emirates has cancelled its order for (70) Airbus A350 aircraft and that has left Airbus with a black eye.  It’s not a body blow to the program but it is an unhappy moment for Airbus and Airbus’ COO John Leahy whose best spin on the subject was that the 787 has had more cancellations over its program.  (The 787 has also been a program for years longer and has considerably more orders overall.)

The blow comes from the fact that Emirates is a good Airbus customer and it would appear that Emirates is rejecting the premise that the A350 is a solution for high density, long haul carriage.  The underlining of this conclusion would be Emirates’ large order for the 777-X.

The A350 clearly fits a need among airlines but as a product line, I continue to wonder if it hits the right mark.  When Airbus has to consider an A330NEO to slot underneath its A350, that isn’t good.  The A350 was originally supposed to be a kind of A330NEO.

The 787 has its product range in the 787-8, -787-9 and 787-10 and it joins that product range with the new 777-8 and -777-9 which sees Boeing providing a combined product family that spans 5 aircraft and a seat count ranging from 240 (3-class) to about 405 (3-class).  Pilots can transition between the two aircraft family in a single handful of days and that amounts to great flexibility for an airline.

Those 2 families also offer state of the art fuel efficiency and engines.  They are the advanced leap that airlines look for.

Airbus has the A330 (getting old no matter what Airbus thinks) and the A350 which will span a seat count from 270 (3 class) to 350 (3 class) and that’s pretty narrow and leaves a large gap for widebody long haul between 220 seats and 270 seats.  It also leaves a 60 seat gap at the upper end and Airbus’ only other answer is the mammoth A380 which already has at least one customer (Emirates) asking for a NEO.

It’s a black eye and the appropriate action on Airbus’ part is to better consider how it meets airlines needs for long and thin routes as well as long and thick at the upper end but below the A380.  Unfortunately, the A350 is already fixed in specifications and that leaves little maneuvering room.

Which leaves me thinking that the A350 was never well thought out from a strategic point of view.  First, it was going to be an A330NEO, then it was going to be an A350 and then it morphed into the A350XWB aimed at the 777 but without quite the revenue capabilities of a 777.

Hint:  Make sure you make money for your customers.  When the 777 is the darling of the party, give them a 777 or better, not a compromise.

It’s a black eye and one that other customers, particularly those in the Middle East who are voraciously ordering aircraft, will pay attention to.  It doesn’t “end” the A350 but it highlights Airbus’ diminished ability to serve its customers in the twin engine, widebody class.

And we need Airbus to do better than that.  Without Airbus, there really is no Boeing and vice versa.

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Envoy: Only a matter of time

May 2, 2014 on 1:25 pm | In Airline Fleets, Airline History, Airline News, Mergers and Bankruptcy | 1 Comment

I honestly think it’s only a matter of time before the American Eagle spinoff, Envoy, is shut down.  Unable to get an agreement with the pilots, American Airlines has decided that Envoy will not receive new aircraft for new flying.

Instead, new aircraft will go to other regional airlines and Envoy now faces a 3 to 4 years dry season and a wind-down of the EMB-140 fleet.

In part, I do think that pilots wrongly played tough in their latest negotiations.  I think that getting an agreement that kept them in the game was a far smarter bet than to reject the agreement and find themselves in a business that has no prospects.

If I were a pilot at Envoy, I would move heaven and earth to get a job with a “major” and move on with life.  Only if I had retirement prospects over the next 2 to 3 years would I hang on.

The choices are slim out there.  Pilots cling to the idea that a pilot shortage will change things.

The so called pilot shortage has been spoken of for 10 years and never really has materialized.  Airlines have figured out how to deal with such shortages in ways that don’t count on pilots. I wouldn’t be betting on a shortage that has never materialized to date.  It’s possible that it will but betting on it only makes you look naive at this point.

I fully expect Envoy aka American Eagle will be shutdown in less than 4 years.  I do not think it has good prospects for a merger either.  They have nothing but a very senior pilot base that has shown intransigence towards the changes in the industry.  Why merge with that when you can just wait for the creature to die?

No, I think Envoy will join Comair (ex Delta) in a very undignified death.

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A330NEO: Good Choice?

April 10, 2014 on 1:06 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | 4 Comments

Airbus may be embracing the idea of creating an A330NEO offering for customers and it would appear to have some acceptance from some customers.  To date, Airbus’ official approach has been to discount the A330 and show it as a cost conscious solution for airlines when balanced against the Boeing 787 offerings.

While airlines such as Delta seem to embrace the idea, one wonders if the investment in an re-engined widebody really is wise at this point.   Airbus doesn’t have the answer to the 787 and it appears the A350-800 won’t be a future answer either.  A lower cost development of an A330NEO would appear to offering something that slots in between the A321 and the A350.

I honestly do not think so.

The 787 clearly was the right size in the -8 variant as many, many airlines adopted this aircraft right from the beginning.  The -9 variant is similarly widely accepted.  Those two, together, are what Airbus has to compete against with the A330 or an A330NEO.  In some missions, it may do OK but it won’t be the long term answer that an investment in a widebody asks for.

It would be foolish for Delta to drive a multi-billion dollar investment in an aircraft that Boeing has a better and just as tested answer for when such an airplane would be available.

It’s become clear that a certain generation of airliners are nearing their end now.  The 767/757 is clearly on a rapid decline with passenger airlines and the A330 will begin that decline shortly.  It’s not a new airliner and the A350 series should have been slotted to replace it better.

Instead, Airbus made the mistake of Bigger is Better.  It’s made that mistake twice now.  Upgauging its offerings made the -800 less attractive to airlines because of performance, not because it was the wrong size.  The truth is that Airbus needed an range that spanned probably 4 aircraft and that’s hard to do.

In the competitive lineup, Airbus needed:

  • A350-700 | 787-8
  • A350-800 | 787-9
  • A350-900 | 787-10
  • A350-1000 | 777-200ER
  • A350-1100 | 777-300ER

There is no -700 or -1100 and the -800 is a bit heavy for the mission and no one wants it.  That leaves Airbus with (2) attractive medium sized widebody aircraft for customers and the A380.

That isn’t enough.  The A330 could be stop gap but it has to compete against a much more modern, efficient product lineup that Boeing will offer.  Look at Boeing’s potential now and over the next 10 years:

  • 787-8
  • 787-9
  • 787-10 / 777-200ER/LR
  • 777-300ER / 777-8
  • 777-9

Boeing wins.  It’s got the right sized aircraft with the right efficiency for a 20+ year investment that ranges the entire sweet spot for widebody aircraft.  Even the “older” 777 models in that line-up purportedly “beat” the corresponding A350 models on the “total” package of performance.  At worst, they hold their own against the A350 and that’s still pretty good.

Airbus needed 2 widebody families.  It has one and I think cobbling together a stop-gap measure for one of those in a A330NEO model is unwise.  The widebody technologies are here and they are useful now.  To not use them in an airliner would be folly, in my opinion.  They are maturing every day in the 787-A350-777 developments being done and that means that airlines in general will want those technologies rather than designs that date back to the late 1980′s.

 

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Happy New Year: What’s your brand?

January 4, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

It’s been a busy holiday season for me and a good one. I hope it has been for you and yours as well.

The Flag Stays! It’s decided, by a pretty narrow margin, that the Blazing Flag tail design that American Airlines released about a year ago will stay. The vote was roughly 49% for the old “AA” tail vs 51% for the new design. Most of us pundits felt that given that choice, the flag would stay.

Doug Parker believes, or says he believes, that livery doesn’t influence a passenger much at the end of the day. He’s the CEO of the largest airline in the world, he may know more than I do.

I think that livery and branding make a huge difference in an airlines fortunes. But I also come from the school of thought that says that a business should stake out a stand on things. I like companies that aren’t all things to all people in their branding but, rather, a company that sets a vision with its branding.

I greatly prefer a company such as Apple who brand and styles itself to be polarizing as opposed to a company such as United Airlines whose branding and styles leave me wondering what they stand for at this point.

American’s is polarizing and that may be good enough.  The one thing AA’s livery is not is boring.  I still think the flag is wrong and I think the flag could be redesigned.  And it may well be redesigned one day but for now, I concede the decision and wish American success.

No offense US Airways people but your livery is actually worse.  You’re getting an upgrade, in my opinion.

It has been tradition for me to make predictions for the new year but I don’t want to do that this year.  I think we’ll keep doing what we do best:  advocating for better companies in the industry and criticizing the worst of the mistakes.

Happy New Year

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Buh-Bye DC-9

December 27, 2013 on 4:30 pm | In Airline Fleets | 7 Comments
Delta Airlines DC-9-50

Delta Airlines DC-9-50

Delta Airlines is retiring the remainder of its DC-9 fleet in January and the -9′s replacement is coming online in the form of 737s and 717s and even larger regional jets.

Delta actually wasn’t a DC-9 customer. Not exactly anyway.  The DC-9 came over in the merger with Northwest Airlines who was a big DC-9 customer.  Northwest got many of its DC-9s from the Republic merger.  Delta kept the aircraft on for several years because the capital costs were low and the aircraft are built so sturdy that their maintenance still wasn’t that expensive.  The remainder of the DC-9s are DC-9-50 aircraft with 120 seats.

This marks, as best as I can tell, the end of the DC-9 in the United States.  To all the DC-9 fans out there, I know you’ll hate me but I say good riddance.

It’s not that I hate the aircraft, it’s that I hate that the aircraft was around doing daily service even today.  This is one of the only places in the entire world where you will see a 35 year old aircraft still doing passenger work and its representative of the service levels that airlines deliver in the United States.

And the old DC-9s used to give me a headache from the cabin pressure.

It’s a sturdy airliner and they’ll never build them like that again and let’s just admit that we don’t want them to built like that again.  They were sturdy but they were also overbuilt and heavy for the service they performed.

They live on anyways.  The MD-80/90 series aircraft are just DC-9s by another model name.  In fact, their type certificates call them out as DC-9-8X’s and DC-9-9X’s.  So the DC-9 isn’t really gone.  Even the truly old aircraft aren’t gone because there are still a lot of MD-82/83 aircraft with steam gauge cockpits out there.

And the Boeing 717 aka the MD-95 aka the DC-9-95 not only still flies but flies efficiently.  I liked that aircraft and still do.  I would like the MD-82/83 aircraft of American Airlines if they had simply put a newer, more comfortable seat on it.  I always liked that you had only a 1 in 5 chance of getting a middle seat too.

But it is time for them to go and let’s pause and reflect on the fact that those aircraft were born mostly before airline deregulation and are only just now going to pasture in an era that doesn’t remotely resemble the industry they were originally built for.  That ain’t nothing.

 

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American Airlines orders new regional jets

December 13, 2013 on 2:57 pm | In Airline Fleets, Airline News, Mergers and Bankruptcy | No Comments

American Airlines didn’t waste time in making a new order for new regional jets.  The order is split between Bombardier and Embraer.

Bombardier CRJ900:  30 orders / 40 options

Embraer E-175:  60 orders / 90 options

The CRJ900 jets will go to US Airways wholly owned subsidiary PSA and, as you can imagine, PSA pilots are thrilled.  The Embraer jets are To Be Determined and, as you can imagine, the American Eagle pilots are way less than thrilled.

I honestly can’t read the motives of American Eagle pilots.  That airline is grossly overburdened with expensive 50 seat (or less) regional jets that will be going away.  Make no mistake, even if the capital costs are exceptionally low for keeping those planes, they are going away.  They are inefficient, costly to maintain and frequently break down at this point.  They are becoming quite old and they don’t fit the modern world model.

American Eagle pilots, represented by ALPA, haven’t found an agreement with American Airlines.  American Airlines president Scott Kirby thinks they can put a deal together and I think that . . . maybe not.  AE pilots are very well paid and many have decided to make a career at that airline instead of doing what most other pilots at other regional airlines do after a few years:  transition to a mainline airline.

I think AE pilots want to be paid like mainline pilots with mainline schedules.  If true, I think that American Airlines has a solution for that problem:  sell or shut down the airline.  In case anyone wasn’t watching, there really aren’t any buyers for expensive regional airlines with old equipment.  Comair anyone?

I feel bad for the AE pilots because they have a lot to lose and they don’t have much bargaining power.  If a deal is made, I would make sure that AE pilots have the right to upgrade into mainline AA operations for the next 10 years.  Pilots who stay in the regional airline game for their career can expect to see bankruptcies, consolidations, strikes and layoffs that are reminiscent of an era already gone in mainline operations.  Fighting won’t change that.

The best favor a union could do for those people is find a way for them to move up and out.

Oh, and those Embraer jets that just got bought?  They aren’t going to be committed to American Eagle until and if there is a contract.  Wait too long and they’ll go to someplace like Republic who already operates them and who already works for American Airlines.

 

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Emirates Order in Dubai

November 27, 2013 on 2:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Emirates Airlines, in Dubai, has made another exceptionally large order for airliners.  I usually criticize the airline for its A380 orders but I have some reactions to Emirates purchases on the Boeing side this time too.

First up, Emirates has ordered another 50 A380 airliners.  They currently have 39 delivered and another 101 ordered.  The configuration used on these airliners offers 517 seats and that is a lot of capacity.  Each of those A380 aircraft represents 3.8 Boeing 737-700 airplanes.  The growth required to support this fleet alone is something I continue to believe that Emirates will not be able to sustain.  If each A380 flies just one flight per day, that is 140 flights a day for the A380.

Who here thinks that there are 140 city pairs that justify an A380?  How about 70 city pairs?

And to make matters more interesting, Emirates has ordered (115) 777-9X and (35) 777-8X aircraft.  The former should be capable of just in excess of 400 passengers.  To be true, Emirates has previously announced its intention to retire some “classic” 777 aircraft of which a small portion of its (119) 777 fleet is comprised.

The size of this airlines’ fleet in 10 years and all invested in widebody, high capacity aircraft is nothing short of fantasy.  The airline has grown today but it won’t beat everyone everywhere all of the time.  Emirates is planning to add widebody aircraft to its fleet on a basis similar to what Southwest and Ryanair do with the 737.   There are orders for 200+ aircraft seating more than 400 passengers each.

I don’t think it is sustainable in the long run.  Time will tell.

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Airbus says to make the seats wider

October 28, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline Seating | 1 Comment

Airbus has gone on record saying that there should be a minimum standard for seat width on international flights and that width should be 18″.

Notice that Airbus has no opinion on seat pitch (think legroom) whatsoever.

The reason Airbus wants an 18″ standard is that it downgrades Boeing aircraft without impacting Airbus aircraft.  Airbus tends to build its airplanes a touch wider than Boeing but not wide enough for another seat row.  This means that Airbus is perceived as being a little bit more comfortable.

This comes at a cost, however.  Airbus aircraft is typically heavier and has more drag on a per seat basis than Boeing aircraft which are really designed around a 17″ to 17.5″ seat width.

Boeing can claim a 10 abreast seating configuration for its 777 airplanes whereas Airbus has just a 9 abreast configuration for its A350 aircraft.  If 18″ is the new standard, Airbus will remain 9 abreast but Boeing would have to downgrade its claims to 9 abreast.

The truth is that many airlines do operate the 777 in a 9 abreast configuration today.  Some have gone to a 10 abreast configuration (and are largely despised for it.)

I can’t say that I disagree that an 18″ wide seat is far more appropriate for an international flight.  Hey, let’s go whole hog and ask for 18″ wide seats with a minimum seat pitch of 32″ for an international flight.

It’s all academic anyway because there is zero enforcement authority for this anywhere.

It’s Airbus being an upstart and getting attention again.  Positive attention that cost them not a single penny.

 

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Boeing loses startups

October 24, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

It often bothers me that Boeing never seems willing to buy into a start up airline.  Airbus has had to make it its business to go to these startups in hopes that they’ll gain market share incrementally.

But Boeing always seems to want to see a strong balance sheet and a track record before truly making a good deal to an airline.  On the surface, this seems smart but in reality, I think Boeing is slowly ceding sales to more and more airlines as a result.

A leveraged business, particularly in the airline industry, is a very common thing these days.

Most recently, VivaAerobus has been operating a fleet of 737-300 aircraft (20) and it just inked a deal with Airbus to buy A320 aircraft to replace those 737s and to expand with.

How do you let an airline operating your airliner successfully get away like that?

You treat them the way Boeing does.  They’re not big, they’re not the best financed and they’re the upstart in a highly regulated country.  But Airbus has the sale and Boeing doesn’t despite the fact that Boeing should have actually had the performance advantage on this sale.

It’s my belief that Boeing has trended towards being discriminating with its sales to only larger companies in general.  And I believe this will hurt Boeing more and more in the commercial landscape in the years to come.

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Hong Kong, Shanghai, Oh My

October 17, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline Service, Airports | 2 Comments

American Airlines has announced that it is adding two new routes from DFW to Hong Kong and Shanghai and has done so with great fanfare.

The Shanghai route will use American’s 777-200ER but the Hong Kong route will make use of AA’s newest 777, the 777-300ER.

When American Airlines ordered the 777-300ER a few years ago, it felt like a very, very good decision.  In fact, in some ways it simply defied imagination that AA was the US airline that finally decided to buy the -300ER (none had done so at that time and none have made such an order today.)

I’m a fervent believer that international routes will trend towards longer, thinner routes.  I do not believe that either the 747 or the A380 has a very strong place in the airline world today.  But I also think that the 777 fits neatly into that high capacity, long route structure that so many airlines are using to make big money from.

And American is clearly doing very, very well using the -300ER.  So well that one does wonder at the reticence to purchase being shown by both United and Delta.  Yes, each still has the 747-400 and I would argue that neither is well served by that aircraft.  Particularly in light of the age and the changing structure of routes.

So let’s celebrate something that you hear  very rarely from me:  Congratulations to American Airlines for a very wise decision.

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Another moment on the JAL Airbus order

October 10, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Richard Aboulafia has written a scathing criticism of Boeing’s loss in his October newsletter which finds that Boeing’s management lost a contest which was entirely Boeing’s to lose and that’s not nothing.

Particularly when it comes from Aboulafia.

Aboulafia criticizes Boeing for much the same things I did just 2 days ago and the only notable part of that is that it is easy to make that criticism at this point.  The evidence has become obvious.

Next up is what will Boeing do to keep ANA in the Boeing fold?  If this were Boeing in even the early 2000′s, I would bet on them finding a way to keep ANA in the 777-X.  A deal would be made and a crisis averted.

I think the fight for ANA business will be epic and I think Airbus’ John Leahy will be smirking at Boeing in a very justified way.  Leahy and his team have spent 3 years taking a par product and a company that is simply executing in an acceptable manner and parlayed that into big wins.

There used to be one thing I would identify as the key to Southwest Airlines’ success.  They did exactly what they said they would do.  They didn’t promise sunshine and roses and the world’s greatest experience onboard their airplanes.  They simply promised to try hard to be nice to you, try hard to get you where you are going on time and to do it at a price that struck most as reasonable.

Southwest made no extraordinary achievements in winning its very loyal customer base.  It performed no superhuman tricks to beat its competitors.  It didn’t even promise a reserved seat and it still won.

That’s what Airbus is doing.  They’re winning with a management that is merely setting reasonable schedules, designing reasonable aircraft and doing it all with no great promise of huge advancement.  They doing what they say they are going to do and the airlines are noticing.

The question is . . . has Boeing noticed that?

 

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Airbus wins JAL order

October 8, 2013 on 12:43 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline News | No Comments

Airbus has managed to land an order from JAL for (18) A350-900s, (13) A350-1000s and another 25 options for the A350.

This from an airline which operates the 787-8 and 777 and which has a decades long relationship with Boeing.  This isn’t a shot across Boeing’s bow.  This is a cannonball going through the hull with water spilling into the engine compartment.

JAL is burned by the 787 and is under the control of entrepreneurs who want operational success more than a good deal from Boeing.  Boeing has had years to take care of JAL as a customer.  Even looking in from the outside, JAL appears to not have been given any more consideration than the average Boeing customer.

And the 787 is a pain in the ass to its operators.  Yes, some operators are being overly dramatic but let’s not ignore the fact that not a single operator is publicly singing the praises of the 787 yet.  Not a one.

If there was such a thing as a safe Boeing customer, it was JAL.  This is the signal moment where everyone realizes that Boeing is not only vulnerable in the marketplace, it’s declining.

Boeing had a chance to kill Airbus with the 787 and lost that chance to a 4 year production delay.  Even if you consider all the old-time Boeing people cautioning that the airplane needed to be birthed in its own time, 4 years is one hell of a long delay for a company that, you know, is supposed to know how to build aircraft.

Boeing had a chance to throw Airbus onto the ropes of the ring by announcing an all new 737 replacement family that would cover from 737-700 to 757-200 seating options.  Instead, Airbus won the hearts and minds of airlines with a warmed over redesign of the A320 aircraft.  Boeing had to respond with an aircraft that doesn’t win many hearts and minds of any airline.

Boeing even had a chance to badly hurt the A350′s sales by announcing a 777 upgrade or replacement and, instead, dithered along until that was a bit late as well.

Boeing chose to build the 747-8i on the idea that Boeing had customers that would buy Boeing no matter what.   They built an aircraft that in the hearts and minds of customers was 40 years old.  That was refreshed some but which really didn’t fit a need.  They followed the idea that Boeing customers will buy Boeing and since the 747-8 is a Boeing product, it will work out OK.  Billions of dollars have been wasted on that aircraft as well as the time and energy of good engineers.  Imagine what would have happened to Airbus if Boeing had focused those resources on a full 737 replacement instead.

Boeing is losing this game.  It’s losing the game to Airbus and it is going to start losing its game to Bombardier.  Warmed over designs and delay in taking the next bold step is killing that company in ways that will be painful to watch.  This is the legacy of McDonnell Douglas and this is exactly how McD lost the game against Boeing and Airbus.  Exactly how it was lost.  There are no real differences here.

Apologize for Boeing if you want but before you do . . . name one strong decision that yielded immediate and positive results for Boeing in the last 8 years.  Just name one.

 

I’ll wait.

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Norwegian Air Shuttle Grounds / Returns 787 For Problems

October 3, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News | 2 Comments

Norwegian Air Shuttle has had a giant fit of impatience with Boeing over its inability to pound their 787 aircraft on a daily basis.  Accordingly, Norwegian has returned at least one 787 to Boeing claiming its unreliable.

Norwegian’s CEO is notoriously outspoken and the airline likes to drive its aircraft like any good LCC carrier would.  Hard.

Can the 787 be operated the same way a 737 is?  I actually think not.  And certainly it would be unwise for an airline to do it so early in its operation of the aircraft.  It takes time to learn a fleet and understand what needs to be done to keep the airplane flying.

What needs to be done to keep a 737 flying is well known.  What needs to be done to keep a 787 flying is still somewhat unknown.  The 787 will be able to keep a hard schedule in the future but today . . . not so much.

As much as I think Norwegian is being overly critical and dramatic over this aircraft, I also think that Boeing continues to have an engineering problem with the aircraft.  That is that they continue to fight fires and continue to miss quality control as a part of the process.  That was understandable at one time but it’s 2013.  This aircraft has been flying for some time and, more importantly, has already experienced several critical problems.

It’s time for Boeing to get a CEO in place who understands what it means to deliver a product to customers that customers both want and can use.  Right now, the 787 is what the customers want but they can’t use it yet.

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Fuel Efficiency is interesting

September 14, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 2 Comments

A study was done on which airlines in the US were most fuel efficient and the scores are in.  First, let’s take a look at them:

RANK CARRIER FUEL EFFICIENCY SCORE EXCESS FUEL PER UNIT TRANSPORT SERVICE
1 Alaska 1.11 —-
2 Spirit 1.09 +2%
2 Hawaiian 1.09 +2%
4 Continental 1.07 +4%
5 Southwest 1.06 +4%
6 Frontier 1.02 +9%
7 JetBlue 1.01 +10%
8 United 1.00 +11% (industry average)
9 Virgin America 0.98 +13%
10 Sun Country 0.97 +14%
11 Delta 0.96 +15%
12 US Airways 0.95 +16%
13 AirTran 0.94 +17%
14 American 0.89 +23%
15 Allegiant 0.88 +26%

I find a few interesting and anecdotal observations to make in this list.  Be aware that this study was done using 2010 data.

First, notice that the “happiest” airlines are nearer the top.  That doesn’t mean all of them are happier places to work, it means that it is notable that many of the leaders are also airlines who take reasonably good care of their airlines.

Second, let’s take note that those that are better than the industry average are airlines who are far less involved in “hub” flight operations.  This makes sense as the airplanes are flown more efficiently in a point to point orientation.  Why does this make a difference?  Part of the fuel efficiency measure is centered on the airline making fewer connections to get between a city pair.

Third:  Old fleets made of old MD-80 aircraft are clearly not performing well for airlines.  That said, two of the more profitable airlines out there have them (Delta and Allegiant).

Fourth:  Hubs with less weather impact and with more central locations may be best.  Continental Airlines had Houston, United had Chicago and Denver and Southwest uses secondary airports for focus cities (Chicago, Dallas).

Fifth:  Newer fleets clearly are favored and the reason is obvious, I think.

Sixth:  No matter how many “advantages” you might have, bad leadership shines through nontheless. I’m talking about American Airlines.

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Delta buys Airbus

September 6, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News | 4 Comments

Delta Airlines has announced an order for some Airbus aircraft and before anyone signals that this is the end of days moment for Boeing . . . relax.

Delta today is comprised of Delta yesterday and Northwest Airlines of yesterday as well.  Northwest Airlines was a big user of Airbus aircraft.  The organization does have a great deal of experience operating Airbus aircraft now.

Furthermore, no airline of Delta’s size can afford to continue to buy from one single supplier and be responsible to both their company as well as their shareholders.

And who says Airbus builds a bad product?  I sure don’t.  Delta has learned that the A330 works very well for them sitting between their 777-200 and 747-400 aircraft.  Part of this order is a “top up” of the A330-300 type to the tune of 10 additional aircraft.  Delta has (10) Airbus A330-200s and (20) Airbus A330-300s already and an additional (10) A330-300 aircraft sounds, to me, like Airbus is growing some capacity at the top end of their fleet.

The A330-300 is their second largest aircraft seating-wise, believe it or not.

And Delta ordered (30) A321 aircraft as well.  This is an airplane that arguably most US based airlines will be buying as it has been identified as a 757 replacement on certain missions.  Given that just 30 of them have been ordered, I suspect that the A321 offers a better replacement than the 737-900ER  in certain missions likely requiring more density rather than range.

No airline can afford to skip Airbus at this point.  Likewise, no airline should skip Boeing either.  Each manufacturer has viable products that can meet needs.  Aircraft manufacturers can no longer offer delivery positions that make it possible to stay in one product family.  Well, not easily anyway.

 

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Announcing London to Austin Non-Stop. . . Say what?

September 4, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News, Airline Service | 2 Comments

British Airways has announced its intentions to start a London (Heathrow) to Austin, TX flight initially flying 5x a week (all but SAT and WED) going to daily later in 2014.  This new flight will start early next year and I’m pretty sure it marks the very first trans-Atlantic flight for Austin.

No, this won’t be using a 777 or a 747.  It will be done with a 787-8 and it is a perfect example of what the 787 allows an airline to do. If British Airways can make this route successful at all, it will yield more revenue than asking American Airlines to bring the passenger to Dallas or United Airlines to bring the passenger to Houston.

But there are implications for the vaunted alliances and, in this case, Oneworld.

Why is it in an airline’s best interest to remain in an alliance and even a trans-Atlantic joint venture if it can simply deploy the right sized aircraft to the route and pick off all the low hanging fruit.

There are also implications for airlines who have not adopted the 787 in any great numbers.  Some airlines continue to view the 787 as a 767 when, in fact, it isn’t.  If all you ever needed was a 767, you would probably be better off buying a 767 from Boeing new (they still offer them).  The 787 can do 767 missions but the genius of owning one is that it can also provide exceptional flexibility and provide more opportunities for profit than the 767 ever had a hope of providing.

Flexibility, we’re learning, is a key component to earning profits at airlines.

I believe that Delta Airlines has shown great restraint and excellent analysis in how it has so far managed its fleet in almost every respect.  The one area I did not believe to be smart was their deferral of 787 aircraft. Tying their fortunes to continued use of their 767s will impact their ability to be flexible and entreprenurial on a global scale.

Likewise, I believe that we’ll see United Airlines start to truly exploit the possibilities of their 787 aircraft in the near future and that will provide competitive intensity to Delta Airlines that we have not yet seen so far.

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AA livery

August 2, 2013 on 4:07 pm | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Imagine the enormous sigh of relief that will come from all quarters if the new CEO of American Airlines Group Doug Parker announces the suspension of the new AA livery in favor of something better.

The problem is, American Airlines can’t really stop it.  They have Airbus aircraft coming online that *must* be painted completely as they cannot be polished metal.

So I now dub the new American Airlines’ livery “Tom’s Revenge”

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The start of an era

July 23, 2013 on 12:43 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

American Airlines has taken delivery of its first A320 series aircraft and this is the start of a new era at American Airlines.

The A319 is the first of 260 aircraft ordered and is a “current” engine option A319.  The A319 aircraft will seat 128 passengers (8 in first class, 18 in economy plus and 102 in economy) and actually presents the start of a second era at American Airlines too.

It’s been a very long time since American Airlines had aircraft that seated so few passengers.  The last aircraft with a passenger count below that of the MD-82 was the Fokker 100 (88 seats and retired in 2004).

The A319 is counted as an MD-80 replacement in the AA fleet but I think differently.  I think it augments the airline’s fleet and offers opportunities for “thin” routes that AA has been neglecting for a while now.  The A319 may replace some MD-80′s but it will also change the opportunity equation considerably.

I have just one request for the airline:  Will someone please kill that horrific airline livery already?

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New Aircraft May Spell New Competition

June 25, 2013 on 12:27 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Around the world, airlines are making record setting orders for new narrowbody aircraft.  We airlines in Southeast Asia and Europe being particularly aggressive while here in the United States airlines are far less so (even American Airlines who desperately needed a new fleet.)

In the United States, most of these orders are being made to replace modest portions of fleets that are nearing the outer limits of age.  100 737s for Delta Airlines just means that old aircraft get replaced with new aircraft.  No real change in fleet size.

Now, many US airlines are modestly upgauging their fleets with slightly larger aircraft.  An A319 buyer is going to the A320.  A 737-700 user goes with a 737-800.  This capacity growth amounts to just meeting organic growth in a modest economy such as the United States.

However, in Europe and Southeast Asia, I suspect something else is going 0n.  Some airlines will use some portion of their order to replace their oldest aircraft (Ryanair and easyJet) but I think the vast portion of their orders are going to go towards growth.

In Europe, I think we will see another fare bloodbath before things settle.  This won’t be just between Ryanair and Easyjet either.  Expect all the other low cost European carriers to be involved.  Norwegian, Germanwings, Air Berlin and Monarch all come to mind as airlines that are likely to be affected by a battle.

In Southeast Asia, the competition is already massive with prices already about as low as they should go with airlines planning double digit growth for multiple years.  Someone and something has to give here.  Yes, low cost carriers in this region are revolutionizing travel but they’re also often operating at a loss for marketshare.  Does this sound familiar?

I expect we will see one or more airlines in this region go bankrupt and I have in mind one particular entity:  Lion Air.

Economic growth in Southeast Asia doesn’t occur at all societal levels and that kind of airline growth isn’t sustainable in that region.  Someone will go out of business or will go bankrupt.  Bet on it.

 

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