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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Cold Bay, Alaska

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

A Delta Airlines 767 on its way from Tokyo to San Francisco experienced trouble with an engine and made a diversion to an airport in Cold Bay, Alaska.

 

 

 

 
Cold Bay has a 10,000 foot runway but I doubt its population of just 108 people was truly prepared to handle passengers from a 767. I would bet that a diversion from a Q400 probably taxes its systems.

Delta sent another 767 to pick up the passengers and carry them onwards to San Francisco but I’m sure the passengers were inconvenienced for at least a full half day if not longer.

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Question: Why are airliners all looking alike now?

July 1, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Trivia | 1 Comment

I received a back channel question asking why all airliners are looking so alike now.

What the person was referring to was the fact that an A320 and B737 look, to the layman, almost exactly alike as do the medium and large widebody aircraft.  It’s true, the Airbus A330 is hard to distinguish from the Boeing 777/767 series aircraft too.

The only semi-distinguishable aircraft out there are the Airbus A340 (production has stopped), the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380.

But the question is why.

The answer is aerodynamics.  As manufacturers strive to gain more and more efficiency out of their aircraft, their aircraft start to look more and more alike.

Simply put, it’s about function over form.  When you design one of these aircraft, you don’t “style” it with something that goes against the aerodynamics of the airframe because such a thing could literally cost the user millions in fuel costs over the life of the airplane.

So, today, we have the Embraer E170/190 which looks a lot like how the Bombardier CS100/CS300 will look  which looks a lot like the Airbus A320 series which in turn looks a lot like the Boeing 737 series.  Because that shape works, we have the Airbus A300 which looks a lot like the Boeing 757/767 which looks a lot like the Airbus A330/A340 which looks a lot like the Boeing 777 which looks a lot like the upcoming A350 which also looks like the Boeing 787.

They all basically look alike with some slight differences and that is completely driven by aerodynamic efficiency.

It’s notable that the “odd ball” aircraft do not really survive past a single generation and don’t show up anymore.  The 727 was out of the ordinary with Boeing and its T-tail configuration was only ever used once by them.  The DC-10/MD-11 3-engine weirdness didn’t really last that long either.  The DC-10 did but the MD-11 died a quick death.  In fact, it’s notable that the MD-11 mostly died in popularity because it didn’t meet efficiency promises.

Oddballs don’t survive very long and those that do survive are driven in their function by physics.

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ANA 767 lands hard

June 24, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Trivia | 2 Comments

An ANA 767 landed hard enough in Tokyo to bend the fuselage severely resulting in serious fuselage wrinkling forward of the wing.  I suspect we’ve identified the next 767-300 to be retired from ANA’s fleet.  Here is the video:

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Airbus vs Boeing: Widebody Aircraft

May 17, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

We could spend tens of posts evangelizing for one manufacturer over another in the Airbus vs Boeing wars.  I spent some time wondering how it is each overcame the other at various times and decided to chart their respective aircraft on seating, range, speed and engine count.  It’s not hard to see why the 767 got trumped by the A330.  The A330 was the logical growth aircraft.  It had the right seating, range and speed.

Similarly, it’s not hard to see how the 787 is trumping the A330 and 767.  It hits the sweet spot in seating (not too large, not too small) while killing competitors on range and speed.  The same is true between the 777 and the A340 (and I’ve thrown in the MD-11 for comparison).  Again, the 777 trumps its competitors soundly in all three categories.

But most remarkable of all is seeing just how the 777 stacks up in present form against the A350.  Now I understand why Boeing continues to be the preferred aircraft so far.  The A350 competes and even competes reasonably well but it still doesn’t really trump the 777 and in some cases, it doesn’t get close to beating the 777.

See the results below:

Airliner Comparison

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Trans-Atlantic 757 Flights

January 13, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

When airlines began to use 757 aircraft for flights between the US Northeast and Europe, it was innovative to say the least.  Using the aircraft’s 4000nm range, it became possible to serve those long, thin routes with non-stop flights that haven’t been possible with a single aisle airliner since the 707 and DC-8.

757s are aging aircraft now and even with winglets, some airlines are seeing the time come for them to retire these planes.  Many speculate that Airbus or Boeing will develop some derivative of the 737 or A320 to replace the 757 on those routes and while it is something that I think airlines would have some interest in, it’s highly unlikely to happen. Despite how much new life the 757 found on those routes, it’s still a very small subset of 757 flights.

Even today, most 757 flights are in the domestic United States and even the trans-continental flights are a subset of all 757 flights.  In point of fact, most 757 flights are not trans-Atlantic or trans-continental in nature.  The trick with those long flights is to have an aircraft with enough power to carry not just passengers but a good load of cargo and a more ideal aircraft would have closer to 5000nm of range as well.

Once you find the engines (which need to be in the 40Klbs of thrust range), you still have to build an aircraft that can economically carry 180 to 200 passengers and a full load of cargo 4500nm to 5000nm.  In point of fact, that starts to sound an awful lot like the 767.  And it’s notable that the 767 is still being produced.

I would argue that the airliner that airlines might buy is a 767-200LR that is lightened and which has more efficient engines.  Engines that, say, would look something like a downrated GEnX engine.  Perhaps an engine derivative of those now being used on the 747. 

I don’t think we’ll ever see an airliner like the 757 again.  It was always a bit of a misfit in the airline world in that it was designed in the 1970s and had to succeed in the 1980s and 1990s.  Its sweet spot was just a bit too high performance for most routes that airlines needed it for.  It succeeded as a design and in production but it was not nearly as successful as the 727 or 767. 

But I do wonder what a lightened 767 with modern, efficient engines would do for airlines on those trans-Atlantic routes.  Or on routes from North America to South America.  Or on US mainland to Hawaii routes.  There might be just enough use for Boeing to do one more derivative of that airframe and get something out of it.  It wouldn’t be impossible to see such an airliner becoming a KC-46B tanker model as well.

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The A340

November 15, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline History | 2 Comments

Lufthansa Airbus A340-600(Flickr)

I got asked what I thought of the A340 last week by a reader of FlyingColors and decided to give some thought to that subject and write a post.

The truth is, the A340 was probably the first Airbus aircraft that I really liked visually.   I liked the slender appearance of the widebody fuselage and I liked the four engines and how they were hung on the wing in a proportion that just seemed a bit sexier than other 4 engine aircraft. 

I liked Airbus’ approach to the A340/A330, too.  I’ve always been fond of the parts bin approach to creating value for a customer and the A330/A340 development was certainly that. 

A fuselage that got borrowed from its first twin-aisle aircraft and CFM engines that were derived from the A320 aircraft.  Need a medium range hauler?  Use our A330.   Need a long range widebody?  Try our A340.   Going trans-Atlantic?  Use our A330 and if you’ve got trans-Pacific routes, we have this lovely 4 engine aircraft for you. 

And you got to have pilots that could fly both. 

It was a beautiful approach and a real answer to what was needed at the time.   It was way better than McDonnell Douglas’s offering in the MD-11 and Boeing really didn’t have an aircraft that even fit the needs at all. 

ETOPS was changing the game at the same time, however.  So was engine development.

The MD-11 was a bit flawed in that it really needed a truly new wing and better engines to achieve its mission.  But the ever frugal derivative player, McDonnell Douglas, played things just a bit too frugal.

The 747 was simply a different class of aircraft.  The 767 was too small and too short ranged to fit the gap.

Airbus did a great job with those aircraft in offering a sweet spot solution for both capacity and range and then made a strong business case for both of them by making them as common as possible.  You cannot blame any airline who went that route.  It was, in the context of the times, the perfect solution.

What we didn’t really count on was engine manufacturers being willing to truly make game changer engines and ETOPS going far past anything anyone could envision.  The 777 was born and it was an even bigger game changer.  First an aircraft that solved the A330 problem just a little bit better.  Not fantastically better but it offered just a touch more capacity and bit more cargo capacity and it did it with engines that were more revolution than evolution.

The A330 has survived because of its improved derivatives and any airline using them makes great money.

The A340 got hampered by a few things.  It needed a bit better wing  and better engines (and finally got both in the A340-500/600).  The CFM engines were a great choice going in but the Rolls Royce Trents were the answer to a question that got asked a bit too late.

Airbus bet on 4 engines being preferred for long haul, trans-oceanic routes and given the dominance of the 747 in that market, it wasn’t a bad bet.   Their mistake was in underestimating Boeing’s ability to look forward.  Boeing saw the possibilities in ETOPS and extra high by-pass engines that were more reliable than anyone could have conceived of a generation earlier.  And it should have given its customer base at the time.

Airbus was hampered by a bit of McD disease and by multi-government ownership at the time.  It didn’t have enough capital to go “all in” on designs and knew it had to make its business case on flexibility which meant derivatives.  In fact, it often only got capital for new investment if that investment benefitted its owners in the form of jobs programs for their citizens.

While thinking about this post, it occured to me that Airbus even produced a 747-SP.  The A340-500 derivative.  It could fly fantastic distances but without enough passengers to make it cost effective.   Then the 777-200LR came along and was capable of doing *that* mission better and cheaper.

The 777-200ER and 777-300ER killed the A340 in all forms (And EADS CFO just admitted it in the press).  It could haul more passengers and cargo for the same or longer distances for less money.  It was that simple.  Boeing made the business case on trip costs and won. 

Even if hindsight is 20/20, you can’t say that Airbus made a mistake with the A340.  The A340 killed the MD-11 and exposed the weaknesses of owning 747s.  It did its job very well but it arrived just a little bit too late to enjoy its success for very long.  Timing is everything.

I would criticize Airbus for the A380.  Yes, it has made a few airlines some good money.  It also ignores the model(s) for long haul travel over the broad spectrum in favor of trunk routes.  It will never enjoy the numbers or prevalence of the 747.  On the other hand, neither will the 747-8i. 

I’m not sure the A350 is the answer either.  I don’t think it fits long, thin routes as well as the 787 and its planned derivatives.  I don’t think it fits the long, large capacity routes quite as well as the 777 either.  Its smallest derivative is an A330 replacement at best and I question whether or not it will ever get built.  Its largest derivative so far doesn’t respond to the 777-300 as a game changer either.  They are free to prove me wrong.

It’s not that I think the A350 won’t sell.  It will.  But I think it’s destined to be a player among a fairly small core group of airlines.  Much as the A380 is and will be.  Boeing took a page from the Airbus playbook and built the 787 to fit a nice, broad piece of medium and long haul routes and positioned itself to answer the largest A350 with a next gen 777 or next gen new build large capacity, widebody aircraft.

Boeing one ups Airbus over the next 20 years with its product line up and does it in a way that has the gaps covered in distance, capacity and service. 

With all of that said, I still think the A340 is one hell of an elegant and pretty airliner.  It lends itself to the great airliner liveries of the world.  Just look at these:

(All images from Flickr under their Creative Commons License)

B-HXJ

 

Etihad

EC-GLE "Concepción Arenal"

G-VGAS

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Is Fuel A Threat?

November 10, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 2 Comments

Every airline reporting on its quarterly financial performance last month cited fuel as a major impact to their bottom line.  Airlines saw significantly higher fuel prices this year compared to 2010 and it’s true that it’s a hit to profits.

On the other hand, it’s notable that fuel hedging contributed significantly to their losses on paper.  Why?  Because fuel prices did not go up high enough for those fuel hedges to provide benefit.  Instead, they went down.

The truth is, it isn’t high fuel prices that are killing airlines.  It’s the price volatility that hurts them.  Airlines haven’t been able to plan their costs very effectively for the past 3 years.  Hedging is supposed to “smooth” that volatility and it will except that it also causes paper losses which reflect negatively on the airline when it announces its financial performance.

Is it necessary?  I used to think so.  In fact, I was a big advocate of fuel hedging not because of the windfall profits it provided many airlines for many years but, rather, because it really did make costs stable.  US Airways has stopped fuel hedging and their financial results show that fuel hedging just may not be necessary anymore.  Their profits are not taking a hit from hedging contracts that “lose” money.

In fact, US Airways performance is exceptional when balanced against the challenges it has.  This is an airline that 6 years later is still effectively operating as two airlines (under one name).  It still doesn’t realize that kind of synergies it needs to from its merger.  It has serious impacts from labor groups who cannot agree on what day it is much less on who represents them with the company (this would be the pilots) and it still doesn’t have a combined seniority list with one agreement in place with both the pilots and the flight attendants. 

This airline also flies from far less popular hubs, contracts with far less ideal regional airlines and has far fewer international flights and even if it could fly more international routes, it lacks the equipment to do so.

But the airlines makes a strong profit.  As strong or stronger than the SuperLegacy airlines.  The one thing it hasn’t done is announce major paper losses as a result of fuel hedging.  It might be time for more airlines to roll with the punches.  It’s a highly complex, risky effort that doesn’t appear to be providing the benefits its supposed to.

Fuel price volatility will continue to be a problem.  Airlines need stable oil prices and, frankly, so do the world economies.  However, let’s not forget that fuel is a problem for *every* airline.  They all enjoy the same problem in this area. 

I expect that we will see airlines focus more and more on fuel economy over the next several years.  We’re already seeing it in some airlines such as American Airlines who has finally realized that if it dumps its MD-80 aircraft, it can not only enjoy double digit improvements in fuel efficiency, it can fly more people as well.  That doesn’t mean that airlines with Next Generation 737s or Airbus A320 series aircraft will be dumping their fleet for new aircraft.  They won’t.

It does mean that we’ll see older aircraft from the 70′s and 80′s going away.  Yes, that means MD-80s but it doesn’t mean MD-90s (which use a far better engine).  The other aircraft it points to are those that many may not have considered. 

The 767-200ER is already clearly a candidate for removal and the 767-300 isn’t far behind it.  These are 1970′s design aircraft and with engines of similar caliber.  There are no more improvements and as fuel climbs, these aircraft become quickly unattractive even when completely paid for.  The 757 is entering into this territory as well.  I would expect that we’ll see a number of these begin to be retired or sold off for cargo work.  Again, these are 1970′s aircraft and while their amazing performance lent them a lease on life, they’ve become very expensive balanced against other aircraft that can perform 90%+ of the same missions.

Say goodbye to the older 737s.  I’m talking about the 737-300/400/500 series aircraft.  These are efficient, for their time, but very inefficient when compared to the latest modesl coming off Boeing’s line.  They had a short extension to their usefulness but you will see these depart rapidly from US based fleets over the next 1 to 3 years. 

The oldest A320 series aircraft are now due for replacement as well.  Some are older than those inefficient 737-300 aircraft and no longer have the fuel efficiency that the latest Airbus offerings possess.  They *seem* like a new aircraft.  I’ll point out that the A320 aircraft started deliveries in the late 1980′s (1988) and several US airlines such as United own some of the oldest models. 

Look for airlines to “upsize” their aircraft.  Southwest is doing this by buying the 737-800.  For a tiny bit more in costs, Southwest can fly significantly more passengers on routes that are seeing enormous demand.  They can make more money for a tiny incremental cost in fuel and one additional flight attendant. 

Finally, buying blocks of the A320NEO and 737MAX will make an airline look smart.  It is universally recognized that while oil prices may one day stabilize, they won’t return to $20/barrel.  The airline with the most fuel efficient aircraft will see an advantage.  That’s why I honestly believe we’ll see a large order from Southwest Airlines for the 737MAX.  It’s a good evolution for the airline and it will continue to fit within its business plan for some time to come. 

Why no orders from Southwest yet?  Because Southwest is one hell of a good negotiator and recognizes that they have power in the simple fact that if Southwest buys the aircraft, it’s an endorsement that everyone will pay attention to.  I expect to see an initial Southwest order for 100 to 200 aircraft sometime in the next 6 months.  Southwest will get its deal and Boeing needs Southwest to stamp approval on the MAX.

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Southwest and International Flights

June 9, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | 1 Comment

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly spoke about using Baltimore’s airport (Baltimore Washington International – BWI) as a “hub” for international flights some time in the future.  He described it as being a number one consideration during conversations about Southwest going international.

Before anything else, don’t go presuming that Southwest is about to buy trans-Atlantic aircraft and start low cost services to Europe.  They aren’t as there is way too much on their plates right now.  However, it is another logical area to grow into once they are done digesting Airtran in about 3 years and provided the market exists at that time.

Quite a few might question using Baltimore but it does make sense.  It is relatively uncongested and offers the ability to not just draw those in Baltimore to its flights but also from the Washington D.C. and Philadelphia areas as well.  In addition, it connects nicely to all of the cities that Southwest services in the eastern half of the United States.  Furthermore, it is likely that any LCC airline taking on such a venture need not be tied to a major international airport such as JFK or Philadelphia or Washington Dulles.  In fact, they would probably want to avoid such airports because the cost of congestion is far higher than the cost of attracting people to some place like Baltimore.

Potential customers for this kind of airline service won’t be business oriented.  These will be leisure passengers looking for a great deal.  You won’t see business class on these airplanes but I do think you’ll see assigned seating.  (Assigned seating is almost a must for a widebody aircraft, IMHO.)

What kind of aircraft?  It won’t be 757s and I don’t *think* it will be 767s.  Although, it is interesting to contemplate the economics of an all economy 767-300ER new build aircraft for trans-Atlantic flights.  Many have thought that the 767 will remain competitive on such routes vs the 787 and that might be true.  787s?  Maybe but I think Southwest might have missed the train when it comes to advantageous pricing on that aircraft and I don’t think SWA will find used 787s on the marketplace anytime soon.

Airbus A330s almost seem interesting until you consider just how many people you would have in a high density, all economy aircraft like that.  It feels like too many and the same is true for the 777-200 (but I think you could almost make a business case for early build 777-200 “A” models that are starting to be retired by airlines such as United.)   The fact is that the 767-300 or 787-8 fits the size category almost perfectly and size will drive this choice. 

So will dispatch reliability because someone like Southwest needs an aircraft they can push into high utilization for such routes.  Not only would trans-Atlantic service require good load factors but it also requires frequency that uses that aircraft on 2 to 3 segments a day.  It’s doable and it is doable with the 767.

But at the end of the day, it’s all speculative right now and I do not expect SWA to announce anything like this at all until at least 3 years have passed.  In the meantime, they’ll gain experience operating Airtran’s international flights and learn how to deal with foreign travel.  They can buy and/or engineer new IT infrastructure that will meet the needs of such flights.  In short, don’t go planning a family vacation to London quite yet.

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LV Air

March 7, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

A new airline of sorts is planning to begin flights to and from Las Vegas.  The airline, LV Air, is planning to use 767 aircraft on charter flights and they’ve got some big plans.  They plan to refit these 767 with a Las Vegas-like interior including luxury seating, mood lighting, etc.  They also promise inflight texting and video as well as iPads for entertainment. 

But here is the one that I kind of balk at happening:  Holograms of celebrities for safety briefings. 

Initially, these flights will be between New York City and Las Vegas and the business model calls for casinos to buy seats on these flights for their high rollers.  What’s left over will be sold as charter space.

I don’t believe this will succeed, however.  It’s almost a certainty that the promised 767 aircraft are going to be very old models that will likely be expensive to refit with these luxuries and even more expensive to maintain afterwards.  Reducing the seat count to offer luxury seating to these high rollers will raise costs per available seat mile considerably and require higher and higher load factors for each flight. 

More importantly, if you’re a high roller who enjoys private flights to Las Vegas, why would you want to fly on this aircraft?  And what do you really get that you can’t enjoy in first class seating on an airline providing better frequency and schedule?

Holograms and iPads might attract the curious but they’re unlike to attract the customers long term.

So far, I cannot find information on the aircraft or what airport(s) they plan to fly into and out of.  There is a nifty video on their website but that’s it:  it’s a nifty video.  Interestingly, the video appears to show a 767-300 painted in LV Air colors rather than a -200 model. 

This strikes me as something like the trans-Atlantic all business class airlines from a few years ago.  It’s likely the wrong aircraft for such services and too many people have too many different options.  Even if it does experience some success initially, that will only cause major airlines to attack it on price and schedule. 

This airline says it will start service in 2011 (again, I cannot find a certain date for starting) which would imply work on these aircraft has already started.  They also project they can move more than 2 million passengers in the first 2 years.  I’m skeptical to say the least.  All of this is predicated on the idea that seat capacity to Las Vegas has been dramatically reduced over the past few years and it appears that they haven’t paid attention to the reason for that, namely that demand is down as well. 

I’ll be mildly surprised if they even start flying and I will be exceptionally surprised if they enjoy any success at all.

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Delta wants jets – lots of them

January 16, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 8 Comments

It has been reported loudly that Delta is poised to issue an RFP (request for proposal) for as many as 200 jets and this is an order no manufacturer wants to lose.   The rumour comes just days after a record breaking Airbus order from IndiGo of India.

At this point, it’s still rumour but this one strikes me as pretty much dead on.   Delta has a huge fleet (720 aircraft with about 40 orders in place which include the deferred NWA order for the 787) and quite a few of those aircraft need to be replaced now or in the immediate future. 

Delta has the Northwest fleet comprised of the very old DC-9-5o, MD-88, MD-90, 757, 747 and some older Airbus equipment.  The Boeing fleet from Delta’s legacy side isn’t quite as old but there are some 757s and 767s in need of replacement as well.  Considering the widely varying fleet, it would come as no surprise that an replacement order is due.

Oil prices and future fuel prices will also drive the need for this order sooner than later if Delta’s goal of a consistent operating profit is to be realized. 

Pundits think this is Boeing’s to lose and I disagree.  Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta, has much more history with Northwest and he is no Airbus hater.  This will be an extremely heated competition and I will say that if Boeing were to lose this order or a significant portion of it, that will sting Boeing and its product line for years to come.

The prime driver for selection is going to be based on a number of items.  First and foremost, trip costs for aircraft to serve a particular grouping of routes.  We’ll see orders for single aisle aircraft to serve what I would call non-transcontinental routes.  In today’s world, that would be the Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700.   Having trans-continental capability in the aircraft would be a plus but these aircraft are going to serve the focus cities of the airline with routes stretching out from the cities but not across the country.   The mission that the MD-88s, MD-90s, Airbus A319s and Boeing 737-700/800s are serving today.

The A319s are brand new and so are the Boeing 737-700s/800s.  This is going to be about replacing the McDonnell Douglas fleet.

Then there is a need for the larger trans-continental capable aircraft that remain single aisle serving longer trunk routes that won’t justify a widebody.  Currently, the Airbus A320 and Boeing 757 are serving those routes.  The A320′s arrived in early 1990′s and the 757s date from the early 1980s to the late 1980s.  The options for replacement here are the Airbus A320/321 and the Boeing 737-800 and 737-900ER.    Neither aircraft actually “replaces” a 757 which has great range and great payload.  I don’t think the A320s are going anywhere yet so this will probably involve a 757 replacement and they (Delta) may or may not want it to harmonize with their existing A320s.

Then there are the 767s.  Some are getting old and some are quite new still.  Delta needs an aircraft stretching between what a 757-300 offers and an A330-300 offers.  The 787 fits this and the fact that Delta has deferred its legacy NWA order for these makes me think that these aircraft won’t be candidates for replacement.

The 747s are pretty old and frankly I don’t think these we very well cared for either.  They need to be replaced and I do think we’ll see orders to do this on these aircraft.  None really serve routes that demand 4 engines so I think we’ll see a replacement oriented around 2 engines.

I think it’s anyone’s guess on the single aisle orders.  Airbus will fight like crazy to win this order with their A320NEO options and Boeing may well have to announce a 737 replacement at a great price to win it back.   Boeing should actually have great incentive to get going on the 737 replacement if Delta is truly interested.  With Delta, Southwest and, potentially, Ryanair all wanting a better 737, there is an exceptionally strong business case to get going on this.

If Boeing doesn’t offer a better 737 in this, I think the order goes to Airbus.

As for the 757/767 replacements . . . well, I’d give the edge to Boeing.  I think the 787 *is* a good answer for these aircraft.  They offer the right amount of extra capacity for growth, long haul capability, extremely high efficiency and flexibility.  I do think it possible that an order might be mixed between the A330 and 787 unless Boeing gets off its duff and gets that 787-9 into production.  The 787-9 is the A330 killer.

Since I don’t think the A330s are going anywhere, I don’t see much opp0rtunity for Airbus’ A350 in this mix.  It’s deliveries are too far off and the A330s just don’t need to be replaced for a long time.

I think Delta’s large widebody strategy is likely going to be a mix of 777-200s and the 777-300ER to replace the 747s.  They already have a fleet of 777-200LR with GE engines so I think they’ll order 777-300ERs with GE engines to replace those 747s.  It will do everything the 747 will do only more efficiently.  I do *not* think the 747-8i will enter into this order.  Delta doesn’t need the capacity and the 777-300ER will serve all the routes the 747 is currently serving with no problem.  The A350-1000 is far too far off and its ability to perform is simply way too unknown for this to be serious contender at Delta.

I do not think that Bombardier or Embraer will enter into this order at all.  They just don’t have a product that meets the needs of an airline like Delta very well at all.

Don’t expect an order announcement for about a year.  Delta will let the manufacturers fight it out with best and final offers for quite some time and it will take time itself to do a detailed analysis.   But I can’t wait to hear their decision.

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Delta defers its 787 orders to 2020

October 28, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | 3 Comments

Delta Airlines has come to an agreement with Boeing on deferring its order for (18) 787 aircraft until the year 2020 or about 10 years from now.  Delta inherited the order when it merged with Northwest Airlines and there has been talk of this happening for over a year now.   It has also arranged to sell (4) 737-800 to third parties upon delivery from Boeing. 

Delta has new(ish) aircraft and it has really old aircraft.  What it doesn’t have is worn out aircraft that require replacement.  Not in the 787 category anyways. 

What’s going on?  Well, operating airliners is a funny thing.  You can buy new, operate new and sell relatively new.  Your costs to do that are generally worth it because you’re also getting a lot of efficiency and since the aircraft is new, maintenance is far cheaper.  Ryanair does this.  You can also hold on to old aircraft, refurbish them from time to time and while they aren’t very efficient with fuel, the capital costs to operate the aircraft are dirt cheap.   Northwest was in the habit of doing this with 40 year old DC-9 aircraft. 

Delta has been buying up used aircraft that fit its model such as the MD-90 and it is going to hold on to other aircraft that have lots of life in it.  Their 767 fleet will hold up for quite some time yet and there is some evidence that the 767 may be no more costly to operate on routes of about 5000nm or less than the 787 is.   In addition, they have a pretty young A330 fleet that was inherited from Northwest and it definitely won’t require replacement anytime soon either. 

Delta is clearly going to preserve its capital and work towards distributing profits from its revenue streams.  This hasn’t worked for airlines very well in the past but it is the stated intention of Delta CEO Richard Anderson.   Even it becomes necessary to change courses, they can.  Delta is a huge airline now and if it decides it wants to move up deliveries on aircraft or even just order more aircraft for timely delivery, Boeing and/or Airbus will happily accomodate them.  They have some flexibility here.

Is this the right move for every airline?  No, it isn’t.  Delta’s 767 fleet is pretty young with a considerable number of its 767 fleet having been delivered in the late 1990s and very early 2000s.  The A330 aircraft have all been delivered to the airline starting in 2003.  They don’t need to elbow their way to the front of the line to get their hands on aircraft. 

Is this the move for every airline?  No, it isn’t.  Other airlines have the bulk of their fleets being delivered in the 1980′s and early 1990′s and that means they are wearing out and do require replacement.   Each airline has to manage its money and its fleet and it can be a delicate dance.  In today’s airline world, flexibility is the key.

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Today’s airline just like yesterday’s, only different

September 26, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

It’s become more and more clear that airlines are going to likely have 3 or 4 basic categories of aircraft.  First, the 100 to 135 seat category with a range that isn’t transcontinental but which allows a full load fly 3 to 3.5 hours maximum. 

Second, the 150 to 210 category with a range that will include trans-continental routes.  This was previously served by the 757 and 767 but has seen today’s 737 and Airbus 320 families take over. 

Third, the 220 to 280 seat arena which includes flights ranging from trans-continental to trans-oceanic including both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  We’ve seen the Airbus A330 and 767 and even the 777 in this area and that’ll continue for a bit longer too.  But it will be owned by the 787, 777 and A350 soon enough.

Finally, the very large aircraft on trunk routes that demand high capacity and high-ish frequency.  The 777-300ER, 747 (-400 and -8i) and A380 are the players here.  In the future, we’ll see more of the 777-300ER and A380 than the 747-8i and I think Boeing will have to come up with an aircraft that fits this area better both in economies as well as seat range. 

Nothing much has changed except that the models from Boeing and Airbus are getting freshened or replaced and their ceding the 100 to 135 seat market to Bombardier and Embraer.  The regional jet manufacturers are invading Boeing and Airbus territory and that’s brought along an interesting development. 

We can ignore the Comac efforts to date.  Their plans for a 150+ seat aircraft are just that, in my opinion, plans.  You don’t enter that arena without a lot of experience building something smaller and generally without experience being a partner on similar efforts for a while.  Those aircraft won’t fly, pun intended.

With a couple of exceptions, regional airlines are bringing those new 100 to 135 seat aircraft with them instead of that flying remaining with the majors.  Scope clauses continue to get revised to include larger aircraft and instead of major airlines adopting new equipment to serve those routes, they’re ceding that area largely to their regional airline partners.

The why involves what it always involves:  labor costs.  They can have it flown cheaper by someone else and earn more money.  As that scope increases, however, I do wonder why you would continue to contract that out to an independent airline instead of owning it and its revenue stream.  Why wouldn’t you want to vertically integrate and own that lower cost structure as well as control the service product?

Instead, we see SuperLegacies prepared to sell off their regional airlines and pretty cheaply at that.  Even new-ish ones with pretty low labor costs. 

At some point, these regional airlines are going to see that they can operate their own networks and while they may choose to remain partnered with majors, they’ll also see they can take on more of the risk and much more of the profit available. 

Yes, it’s been tried already a couple of times and while those efforts sputtered at the 50 seat jet level, they won’t necessarily sputter using 90 to 110 seat jets that are coming on line.  Republic may be the first to do it successfully by buying brands and working to build an integrated network while continuing to service partnerships with major airlines, time will tell.  If they are successful, will they one day leave their partnerships with the majors and become a force to content with on their own?

And where does that leave the SuperLegacies in the future?  Will they continue to walk away from the bottom end of flying when it comes to capacity?  Will they continue to cede that work to partner airlines while working to build their long haul flying?  Can they afford to cede that much control on what, today, feeds their networks for that long haul flying?

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767 Pylons

July 24, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

Recently the FAA has required operators of 767 aircraft to inspect the engine pylons on their fleet because cracking was found on a few pylons in the American Airlines fleet recently.  A co-worker expressed concern about this because they will be flying an American 767 in a few weeks and asked about it. 

I would have absolutely no worries about flying on a 767 of any type despite this discovery.  As aircraft age, they do develop new trends in how their structures age.  While the pylons found had cracked, very few, so far, have been discovered to have actual cracks.  I have no doubt that there will be increased inspections on this area of the aircraft and if pylons are showing fatigue, they’ll be replaced immediately. 

Yes, it stirs up pictures of a certain DC-10 from the 1970′s in Chicago.  However, there are differences between the two aircraft.  First, the DC-10 cracks developed because of improper maintenace procedures.  The cracks found on the 767 result from simple metal fatigue.  How is that different?  In the latter case, the progression is much more preditable typically.  In the former situation, severe stress was being placed on parts and in areas where it wasn’t supposed to be.  It is kind of like feeling sore and tired and how you got that way. If you were beat up by someone, you’re sore and tired and you may have other injuries.  If you’re just old, it’s a natural consequence of age and something you can do something about but it doesn’t necessarily indicate catastrophe or other injuries either.

Yes, fly the 767 with confidence.  It’s an aircraft that will be around for some time to come.

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Delta: Good Goes Around

June 21, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service | 1 Comment

A close friend of mine is with a touring Broadway show (crew) and has been for over 2 years. As a result, he’s flown some major miles week by week and many of those were on Delta or Northwest Airlines.  Nonetheless, he’s a mid-miles accumulator with them and he decided to use some of those miles to fly his girlfriend from Lansing, Michigan to Los Angeles to visit. 

It was a bad day for that flight from Detroit to LAX.  Held on the ground for over 45 minutes in Detroit, the pilot managed to make up some time on the 4 hour flight but when they arrived, they were held on the ground again for about an hour.  It is notable that weather wasn’t the source for these delays.  In fact, the hold in LAX was because there were no gates available. 

Personally, lack of gates when there is no weather delay and late at night to boot is just bad, bad, bad.  The airline knows the flight is coming in and knows it is a 767-300 and knows they need gate space to accomodate it.  No gate is just one of the worst reasons to be delayed short of really bad weather.

Now, because this friend is crew on this Broadway show, he works every night and a good portion of the weekends on these shows and because of that, he couldn’t pick up his girlfriend at LAX.  So he arranged for a SuperShuttle trip.  The problem is, because of the delays she missed *her* SuperShuttle and had to take one that was much later (way past 12 midnight arrival in the Hollyweird area) and that was the final straw for him.

So he wrote them an email.  He first said:

 

” I booked passage for my girlfriend on DAL1819 from DTW to LAX on June 10, 2010.  The flight was 46 minutes late leaving DTW, and then once it had landed in Los Angeles, it was detained on the tarmac for *fifty minutes* at LAX, due to lack of an open gate. This, I’m afraid, is totally unacceptable after a four-plus hour trans-continental flight.”

and

 

” Need I remind you that you are in a SERVICE industry.  I suggest you re-evaluate your definition of the word “service.”  And quickly, if you want any more business from me.  In this economic climate, I am not required to pay money to companies who do not provide adequate SERVICE.”

I’ll be honest.  If he had asked me in advance, I would have advised him to complain because I don’t think things ever get fixed until people do complain but I also would have advised him not to expect any real response either.  In fact, I would have predicted a canned response only tangentially relevant and not much else.

Well, Delta, you surprised me.  Not only did you respond promptly, you responded in a way that left no doubt that you actually read the complaint, followed up on it (possibly even escalated it to the station manager in LAX) and then delivered a flight credit for the inconvenience and delivered it very promptly.   It doesn’t get better than that.  I’m impressed with the context of the response, the speed and, frankly, I’m impressed that it was a responsed that was neither an under nor an over reaction to the customer complaint.  Here is their response (with names redacted):

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding irregular flight operations while your girlfriend traveling with us.  On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience
 caused to your girlfriend due to delay of our flight #### on June 10, 2010.

 I am truly sorry for the inconvenience caused when our flight #### was delayed on the tarmac waiting for an available gate.  Be assured I will be sharing your comments with our Operations Control Center and Airport Customer Service leadership teams for their internal follow up.  We want to make every effort to deplane all passengers in a timely manner,especially those passengers with a connecting flight.

 To demonstrate our commitment to customer service and as a gesture of apology for the irregular flight operations, I have issued an Electronic Transportation Credit Voucher (eTCV) in the amount of $75.00 for Ms. <name redacted>.  Please note the voucher number and associated Terms and Conditions will be arriving in a separate email.  Please keep the voucher number and the Terms and Conditions since the number is required for redemption.  It is also important for me to mention that no charge is assessed for reservations confirmed online at delta.com.

 As a loyal SkyMiles member since August 30, 2008, you are an integral part of our customer base and we are always interested in your feedback. I hope I have been able to resolve any concerns you have about irregular flight operations.  Your business is important to us and given the opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not only meet but exceed your expectations.

 Sincerely,

 Yousef M. Sequeira
 Coordinator, Customer Care
 Delta Air Lines/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Mr. Sequeira, your response was the epitome of what good airline service should be with respect to a legitimate complaint.  You were responsive without being a doormat. 

Everyone should hear the good as well as the bad.  This is another good story and let’s hope I keep hearing about more good ones.

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AA Flight Attendant Steps In As First Officer

June 18, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline News, Trivia | 1 Comment

USA Today’s Today in the Sky blog reported on an American Airlines flight attendant who stepped in as a First Officer on a 767 flight when the regular First Officer was suddenly afflicted with severe stomach flu-like symptoms.  You can read the story HERE.

According to American Airlines, protocol is to search for off-duty AA pilots first and then the next best alternative.  Flight attendant Patti DeLuna (61) was qualified as a commercial pilot some time ago and while her pilot’s license wasn’t current, she was able to help fill in for the ill first officer.  The plane landed without incident.

American points out that it is perfectly possible to land the 767 with one pilot and I’m sure that Ms. Fagan helped the captain of the flight with his checklists and monitored speed and altitude during the landing.   American Flight 1612 was flying from San Francisco to Chicago on Monday, June 14th.

It really is just like something out of the movies.

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AA / US Airways: Analysts decide they like it.

June 9, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets, Airline News, Airlines Alliances | 2 Comments

The Dallas Morning News Aviation Blog has this post HERE about analysts beginning to like the idea of a merger between American  Airlines and US Airways.   This marriage occurred to me back in April and you can read my post HERE.  Eric Torbensen at the Dallas Morning News thinks it is a terrible idea and I disagree.

The real reason to perhaps not do a merger between these two airlines is that American Airlines is terrible at mergers.  Their employees don’t embrace them and their executive corps approaches them like predators.  As a result, mergers at AA tend to be plain “consumption” rather than growth or partnership.

Now, if they could embrace a merger, I believe one such as this could be good for them.  First, a merger like this wouldn’t definitely not be sexy.  The sexy merger partners are now fully occupied and, frankly, there was perhaps just one that really would have qualified as sexy and doable for AA and that was Northwest Airlines.  They’re gone. But just because an AA / US Airways marriage isn’t the sexiest thing on the planet and just because it doesn’t necessarily bring the gains that another partner would have provided doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make financial sense. 

This one could.  Look at the route maps first.  US Airways offers a hub presence in two areas of the United States where AA is actually a bit weak.  Phoenix is a nice hub in the web and while it isn’t the strongest hub in the country, it does pretty well.  Yes, Southwest is there but guess what?  AA knows how to compete with Southwest. 

Charlotte is a nice Southeastern US hub that pvovides coverage in area that AA hasn’t gotten much traction.  AA tried having a hub in Raleigh (didn’t work) and has, from time to time, tried to expand Nashville.  It has Miami but that really is more of an international gateway city than it is a domestic hub.   So AA has presence in some weak(ish) focus cities for the SE that the Charlotte hub could change for them. 

So, in terms of a domestic network, it works.  It really is quite complementary to AA’s existing system.

There is some compatibility between the executive leadership of the two companies.  Doug Parker is a former AA manager, for example (and his wife still is an AA flight attendant) and some of the other executive staff has roots in AA as well.  Some that don’t are from Northwest and the cultures between Northwest and American Airlines aren’t dissimilar either. 

But let’s talk about the romantic international part of this.  No, US Airways doesn’t offer much to AA that it doesn’t already have.  It’s US Airways weakest area.  But it isn’t a money loser and there are some hidden benefits.  American can probably either A) redirect feed for those flights to one of their existing gateway cities or B) bolster the US Airways international product and make the US Airways international flights a bit more of a competitor.    The smart team would do both.

There is another benefit:  A more diversified fleet.  There is some overlap between the two companies (737, 757 and 767 equipment but the US Airways mainstay aircraft are Airbus aircraft now.  The A320 series aircraft could be useful to redeploy onto AA routes currently being served by the MD-80 fleet.  The Airbus A330 equipment could be redeployed to AA routes requiring a little more capacity than a 767 but which aren’t in need of a 777′s size or range.

Finally, such a merger would offer Oneworld domestic coverage in areas of the US where it is definitely weak.  The Oneworld alliance leans on AA only in the US and the other two alliances were bolstered by at least 2 airlines domestically.  This is a great opportunity to improve the Oneworld alliance. 

There is value in such a marriage.  The problem is, the people who know how to do this kind of marriage and make it work are at US Airways, not AA.  Doug Parker and Company understand the value of a union like this and know that you embrace the partners strength and use it.  Gerard Arpey and Company come from a school that is more about being a predator and consuming your competition without really embracing them as partners.  Since AA is so much larger than US Airways, it’s Arpey who would lead such a merger and I don’t think he’s the right one. 

Actually, I think Doug Parker could do fantastic things for AA.  If he can succeed with US Airway’s assets and weaknesses, he very likely could do wonders for an airline like AA with its resources.  But the AA board would have to want him and despite the recent flare ups against Arpey from analysts, Gerard Arpey still holds the full confidence of AA’s board of directos.  He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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Boeing 737 Replacement: Another Analyst Makes Their Bet

May 21, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development | No Comments

It’s being reported by Aviation Week that a Morgan Stanley financial analyst is now predicting that Boeing will soon announce a 737 replacement development program.  See that article HERE.  Her reasoning is somewhat sound but is also tinged with a financial analysts viewpoint. 

Financial analysts see a re-engine program adding little if anything to Boeing’s financial performance.  A new aircraft would potentially garner hundreds if not thousands of orders during the development period and that backlog of orders would offer confidence to the financial world.   Fortunately, engineers run Boeing.  Creating an aircraft for the sake of a balance sheet is an unwise move unless many other criteria are met as well.  Most of those criteria are engineering related such as engine development maturity, new materials (CFRP for instance) maturity, etc.

This analyst also speculates that a re-engined B737 vs a re-engined A320 could still be 8 to 10% less efficient than the Airbus product.  Now her engineering prowess is really showing.  The two aircraft are neck and neck now.  Both would need substantial engineering changes to accomodate a new engine.  The new Pratt & Whitney GTF engine still is not showing the performance that has been promised.  In fact, in a Boeing vs Airbus matchup between like models, the Boeing generally has the lowest trip costs so far.  It’s an almost insignificant advantage but it exists and it shows this analyst hasn’t done too much homework.

Finally, there is more talk of this new aircraft being a twin-aisle development for faster boarding.  This one I doubt.  A twin-aisle wouldn’t just require a larger fuselage but it would potentially be heavier if kept as a circular cross section.  A new fuselage shape might lend itself to such a development but I really doubt it.  The 737 market is from about 130 to 180 seats.  A twin aisle means a shorter length and that means things like a taller tail.  It would imply more “structure” being necessary and more structure generally means more weight.  More weight means higher costs.  Perhaps a new fuselage shape might work but that means lots of new engineering and materials potentially.  I wouldn’t rule it out completely but I would give it an extremely low probability. 

That said, I would be less surprised to learn of a “twin” development of two sub-families somewhat similar to the 757/767 developments.  An aircraft family capable of serving from 120 to 160 passengers and, perhaps, another serving 160 to 200 passengers with a great deal of commonality might be the answer everyone is looking for.  That would allow Boeing to optimize their aircraft structures for missions in those categories and, at the same time, potentially offer commonality in engines, aircraft systems and pilot ratings. 

I continue to believe Boeing will announce a new program in the next 18 to 24 months.  I do believe it will be for a single aisle airliner(s) and I do believe that it may have an entry into service late in the decade.  Everything else is just a guess.  For earlier comments on this, you can read THIS blog entry. 

The argument that current 737 owners are afraid that a re-engine or new development program will hurt their aircraft values is barely valid.  It may hurt their values but if Boeing can engineer a new aircraft meeting offering a great gain in efficiency, then it is time to start developing it.  If they cannot, then they’ll wait.  There is no value to either Boeing or the airlines in waiting longer than necessary.  When the risks reach an appropriate level, they will launch this.  The question is, have those risks gotten to a point that they are acceptable?

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Delta and the 787

April 21, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fees | 1 Comment

The Dallas Morning News Aviation Blog has THIS story about Delta possibly deferring or cancelling its (inherited from Northwest) 787 orders for 18 aircraft (and 50 additional options.)  And this kind of makes sense to me. 

 

Northwest probably did need those 787 aircraft for its trans-pacific routes.  Its 747 fleet was adequate for some routes but others just couldn’t stand a 747 and Northwest doesn’t have any 777 aircraft.  The combined fleet of Delta and Northwest is a different matter, however. 

 

If anything, I think Delta might have one long haul aircraft type too many.  That said, they have 767 (Delta) and A330 (Northwest) aircraft for medium haul routes and configured so that each is nearly ideal for passenger density.  They have the 777 (Delta) and the 747 (Northwest) for long haul, high density routes as well.  Frankly, I think Delta might be better off adding the 777-300 to its fleet and retiring the 747 but that isn’t their plan.  They are refurbishing the 747 aircraft and extending leases on them.  Clearly Delta sees a profitable use for them at this time. 

 

The 787 isn’t going to be a trans-Atlantic aircraft.  Certainly not on the first routes for any airline.  A new(ish) build 767-300 or A330-300 can do those routes just as economically.  The 787 is better suited to routes like NYC to Tokyo or LA to Sydney or Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro or even the US to India.  Delta has the right sized aircraft for those routes.  

 

Delta can probably sell those orders profitably at this point.  There are a number of airlines who don’t have new(ish) 767s or A330s and there are several more who need to downsize from a 747 or 777 on long haul routes.  Airlines such as Continental and AA come to mind.  

 

Mind you, the enthusiast in me wishes all US airlines flew the latest and great aircraft.  The practical side of me says we’ll probably only see Continental take up its orders on schedule and even AA will likely take its time adding the 787.

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Trans-Atlantic Aircraft

March 11, 2010 on 12:00 pm | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Both Boeing and Airbus have a great selection of single aisle aircraft for domestic/trans-continental service in their B737 and A320 series families.  Both have excellent widebody families for medium to long haul service too.  The single aisle families can carry anywhere from about 130 to 190 passengers and that’s a pretty nice cross-section.  The current widebody families (and I’m excluding the 767 from this characterization but you’ll see why in a few minutes) accomodate a broad range of passengers ranging from about 270 to 400+ passengers.  Each even has new widebody family aircraft being introduced now and over the next 5 to 7 years that promise fantastic efficiency at incredible ranges.

 

Where is the aircraft to serve the 200 to 250 passenger count on a trans-continental/trans-Atlantic system?  Yes, the A330 and B767 are there but they’re really not quite the aircraft for that anymore.  The A330 is best as a -300 series aircraft and that encroaches into the 270+ territory.  The 767 is still being built but it is, for all intent and purposes, a discontinued aircraft. 

 

Previously we had the 757 and 767 capable of carrying that 190 to 250 passenger range on routes ranging from 2800 to 5500 miles and that market remains very active.  But no one is building a new aircraft for that segment.  The 787 misses it by a touch too many passengers and the A350 misses it by much more.  Neither the 737-900ER nor the A321 is capable of traversing the Atlantic ocean from the east coast of the US to points inside the middle of Europe.   They can barely make it across the continental United States.

 

Everyone is interested in aircraft for long haul routes that are intercontinental / trans-Pacific routes that yield quite a bit of revenue but for which there remains a fairly limited market.   Who is going to build the aircraft capable of flying from Northeastern United States to Berlin or Rome or Athens or even Helsinki without being too much aircraft?  Yes, the 787-8 can handle that route and probably handle it pretty well but it offers only a small marginal improvement on efficiency for those routes. 

 

It would appear that the world market could stand to see another A300/767 sized aircraft that offers the kind of efficiency we see being promised in the 787/A350 aircraft being built today.  And that really shouldn’t be difficult at all for either manufacturer.  The fuselage sizes and engines necessary are known quantities.  The technologies to raise the efficiency needed for those routes are all available today.  There is no challenge to building this kind of aircraft but it doesn’t even appear to be on the drawing boards (or, rather, CAD screens) of either company. 

 

There are a lot of 757/767/A300/A330-200 aircraft still out there but they’re aging fast and have a limited lifecycle left at virtually any airline.  I do wonder why airlines aren’t pushing more for a 200 to 250 passenger, 5500nm aircraft particularly since we’re talking about routes that are medium haul, bread and butter routes for much of the global airline system.  It is a sweet spot being ignored and I think that the manufacturer that identifies it and addresses it sooner, rather than later, is the manufacturer who enjoys a healthy order book for the next 2 to 3 decades.

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