Long Distance 787 Style

July 7, 2014 on 2:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Service | 2 Comments

I read a story from Forbes recently where the possibilities that the 787 opened up were discussed.  Specifically, how new routes to China were springing up now that the 787 was available to do “long and thin” routes for airlines.

United Airlines opened up a thrice weekly route from San Francisco to Chengdu (in the interior of China) that is 6857 miles in length.  Not nearly the maximum distance a 787 can fly but certainly a distance that isn’t flown often.  That is the equivalent of flying across the United States from coast to coast 3 times.

The reason that route is possible is because the 787 delivers seat costs that are less than much larger airliners (777, 747, A380) despite it being able to seat just over 200 people.  The United Airlines 787 seats just 219 people, for instance.

On that San Francisco – Chengdu route 40 years ago, the route would have been flown from San Francisco to some place such as Japan on a 747 where a smaller but still long-legged airliner such as the DC-8 would carry some passengers onwards to Chengdu, a distance of 2100 more miles.

That is the magic of airliners today:  direct routes instead of spoke-hub–hub-spoke.

It’s why airlines do want range and the idea that airlines will accept less range for a cheaper vehicle is somewhat suspect in my opinion.

It’s why I believe that the A380 is a niche airliner and will forever be a niche airliner.  Why should I fly from Dallas to Dubai to Mumbai on Emirates when I could theoretically hop on an American Airlines’ 787 and fly from DFW to Mumbai direct?  (And very doable on the 787-9, I might add.)

This is the quiet revolution of the 787.  It isn’t the carbon fibre or engines.  It’s the very cost effective airliner for such routes.

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The A380 in Dallas

April 7, 2014 on 8:47 am | In Airline News | No Comments

Emirates has announced it plans to serve Dallas with its flagship A380 on October 1st of this year.  The aircraft will replace a Boeing 777-200LR and will offer 223 more seats than the current 777.

Why?  Houston has service to the Middle East because of the oil business.  Dallas has it because of the IT business.

The Middle Eastern carriers are the airlines of choice for entire families from India and Pakistan when traveling between the United States and the Indian sub-continent.  Currently, many going to India actually travel down to Houston to fly home because the seat availability is better and the prices are cheaper.

Emirates knows it can reliably fill the A380 by lowering prices.

Quite frankly, I think this is being put into place today rather than next year or the following to ensure that a base of travelers is built up before American Airlines can deploy its 787 aircraft on a direct route to India.  (American’s 777 aircraft don’t quite have the range for the trip but the 787 will).

I think this is a powerful pre-emptive action on Emirates part to subdue QATAR, Etihad and American Airlines and it will likely work very well for them.

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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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British Airways A380 vs . . . . a rugby player

July 31, 2013 on 1:00 pm | In Trivia | No Comments

British Airways is getting people excited about their new A380 aircraft with a race.  Check out who wins:

 

 

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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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No difference

February 26, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

A comment found on Executive Travel’s website and made about the A380:

“Actually, there’s no difference between flying 30 passengers and 526,” says Harald Tschira, a Lufthansa first officer.

The main differences really center on what you have to learn about the systems of the aircraft.  On a larger aircraft, there are more systems to learn than, say, on an Embraer ERJ-140.  But the flying and, most specifically, the act of preparing for departure, flying a route and landing, is pretty much the same from one aircraft to another.

The idea that a larger aircraft is more difficult to fly is also specious.  It’s not.  In fact, large aircraft can often be easier to fly than smaller aircraft.

Upgrading into larger aircraft is often a large benefit for pilots because it means they’re flying flights with more hours / flight which means they have to fly fewer flights overall each month.

Nominally, you are putting more experienced pilots into cockpits of aircraft carrying more people and that might mean you have fewer accidents where there are a large number of casualties.  But I really don’t think that is substantiated by statistics.  When aircraft crash, they’re of all makes and models.  The Air France Airbus A330 disaster was a total loss of life, for instance.  Theoretically, that aircraft was staffed by very experienced pilots who all did the wrong things to recover the aircraft.

Is there a huge difference between the aircraft of size and regional jets?  No, not really.  A qualified pilot could fly either with the existing training.  Is there a reason to have the most qualified pilots on the largest aircraft?  No, not really.

So why do we do it?  Because that’s the way it’s been done since before airlines were profitable.  There was a correlation between an experienced pilot and his ability to fly a larger aircraft when airplanes were not automated.  Today, aircraft are all much more automated and have far better instrumentation which levels the playing ground.

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A Virgin Delta Deal

December 20, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

I’ve had some time to think about the new Virgin Atlantic / Delta Airlines deal and several things have occurred to me which make this a bigger threat than I think anyone necessarily perceived including me.

Virgin Atlantic knows its trade across the Atlantic and its got the London Heathrow slots to make a  lot happen for Delta.  For the first time in 30 years, American Airlines and British Airways may be facing a very real threat to their lucrative trans-Atlantic business.

Virgin has the aircraft and airports slots and Delta has the network.  Delta has the network feed into New York City and enough network to actually draw Oneworld (AA/BA) customers away from Dallas and Chicago to Atlanta and New York City and even Detroit.  AA and BA won’t lose their O&D traffic in those cities but it could lose a great deal of the network feed into those cities in favor of a Delta solution.

This will happen just as American Airlines prepares to scale up its operations with 777-300ER aircraft onto those routes and just as British Airways prepares to take delivery of its first Airbus A380s.  If Willie Walsh and Tom Horton aren’t cursing Richard Anderson, they should be.

Virgin has 747-400 and Airbus A340-600 aircraft that it can throw at routes to the US and a newish fleet at that which represents great service and certainly service competitive with AA and BA.

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Singapore Airlines A340s go Buh-Bye

October 25, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Singapore Airlines has made a deal with Airbus to buy 5 more A380 aircraft that is contingent upon Airbus taking their current A340-500 aircraft back for resale.  It’s a good, smart deal for Singapore and not really a surprise.

Singapore probably could use a few more A380s for 747 replacement and growth.  But those A340-500 aircraft are fuel hogs compared to anything else in their fleet.  It was time for them to go.

Since they’re  leaving, so are the Singapore routes from Singapore to LA and New York City.  The longest aircraft routes on record today will be no more and that leaves the Sydney-Dallas route as being the top leader.   Those routes were prestige routes that never really earned much money and less so today.  If Singapore truly wanted to continue them, they could have added 777-200LR aircraft to that route and flown more people for less costs.

In a way, it’s kind of a quiet ending to what was originally an exciting aircraft.  Admittedly, the A340 got eclipsed by the 777-200LR pretty quickly but it was a very impressive aircraft for range when it arrived and really made people think when it began serving routes that were really about halfway across the face of the earth.

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Emirates might order 40 more A380s

October 4, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Emirates Airlines CEO Tim Clark said in Seattle that his airline would like to purchase another 40 A380s but that its current hub in Dubai cannot hold that many.

I’ll note that Dubai has plenty of space to expand, if necessary.  More to the point, what does an airline such as Emirates do with its existing 90 A380s (23 delivered, 67 still on order) and how does it deploy them to earn money?

The truth is that every other airline in the world competing with Emirates isn’t going to fail and certainly isn’t going to not try to compete with Emirates.  In way, Emirates brooksmanship with its A380 orders is a bit like putting a match to the competitive flame that the industry has so carefully managed with capacity for the past 4 years.

An additional 40 more A380s leading to an ultimate total of 120 A380 aircraft with a combined seat capacity of 60,000+ seats is not sustainable and the market demand doesn’t reflect this as sustainable.

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United and its 787 / Boeing

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

United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek has recently made some comments about the airline and its fleet with particular attention to the 787.

Smisek notes that the range, efficiency and passenger capacity opens up new point to point routes for the airline such as Denver to Japan.  These are the kinds of routes we can expect from US airlines who take on the aircraft and the 787-9 will be used to upgrade service on those routes originally developed with the 787-8.

Smisek also reiterates that United doesn’t see the A380 as an airplane for them (and I agree) and does acknowledge that the 747-8i is being looked at (but likely not very seriously) and notes that it has a lot of airliners on order.  I strongly suspect that United would rather purchase the 777-X rather than buy either the 747-8i or A380.  In addition, I think he sees a lot of aging 777 aircraft that would be better replaced with a 787-10 or 777-X as well.

But Boeing has slipped its authorization to offer plan for the 777-X to late 2013 or early 2014.  Most think that Boeing doesn’t need to offer the 777-X now and that waiting to see the final definition of the A350-1000 will help them.

I think that you can’t lead in an industry from behind.  Waiting too long for to see what your customer does leaves you playing catch up and if that customer delivers on its promise, it doesn’t matter what you can do to better the situation, people will buy what’s available.

If you think I’m wrong . . . just look at what Airbus pulled off with its A320NEO against Boeing who is still lagging behind and who has a “me too” offering at best.

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Singapore gets 19

September 10, 2012 on 10:44 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

Curiously, I find myself  a bit impressed to learn that Singapore Airlines has received its 19th and final Airbus A380 now.  Singapore Airlines was one of the first airlines to order the A380 and other than Emirates, has the largest fleet of A380s for now.   I’m impressed because it does seem that Airbus has reached a bit of a milestone when it’s filled all existing orders for the A380 to an airline.

By all accounts, Singapore Airlines is very happy with its A380 aircraft and doesn’t miss the 747 whatsoever.  The 747-400 was largely replaced by the A380 and the 777-300ER.

The only other airline with a quantity of A380s similar to that is Emirates and it has 90 A380s on order rather than the 19 that Singapore Airlines has.

QANTAS has taken delivery of 12 A380s and won’t take delivery of 2 more until 2014 and after that the remaining 6 won’t be delivered until 2018.

Lufthansa now has 10 of 17 ordered and will receive the remaining 7 between now and 2015.

It is curious to me that no airline other than Emirates has more than 20 of these aircraft ordered.  Most orders are actually in the single digits or the very low double digits.   The top 5 orders for the A380 are:

  • Emirates:  90 ordered, 23 delivered
  • QANTAS:  20 ordered, 12 delivered
  • Singapore:  19 ordered, 19 delivered
  • Lufthansa:  17 ordered, 10 delivered
  • Air France: 12 ordered, 8 delivered
  • British Airways:  12 ordered, 0 delivered

The bottom 5 orders for the A380 are:

  • China Southern:  5 ordered, 3 delivered (with a small amount of doubt about the remaining 2 to be delivered)
  • Kingfisher:  5 ordered, 0 delivered (and no expectation that this order will ever be fulfilled)
  • Transaero: 4 ordered, 0 delivered
  • Air Austral: 2 ordered,
  • Kingdom Holding Company:  1 ordered

One begins to wonder if the production rate for the A380 isn’t a bit aggressive if it only supports a tiny handful of prime customers and really only one “huge” customer (Emirates).

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QANTAS ups the ante in DFW

June 21, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Service | No Comments

QANTAS is moving from 4 flights / week to daily flights in its DFW to Australia operations. QANTAS flies non-stop from Sydney to Dallas and non-stop from Dallas to Brisbane with follow on service to Sydney using the Boeing 747-400ER aircraft it has. Previously, it’s been reported that QANTAS load factors have typically exceeded 85% and that the flights have, at times, been load limited or range limited as a result of both passenger and cargo demand.

In other words, this route is *really* succeeding for QANTAS and is attracting a lot of American Airlines network feed. Most felt that this route would go to daily service fairly quickly and it has after about a year of service. My prediction is that the next step will be to add an A380 to the route. Think I’m crazy? I’m not.

The 3 class 747-400ER carries 364 passengers and travels the route at the very limit of its range. 85% load factor for that aircraft translates into about 310 passengers. If the aircraft is being load or range limited with those load factors, it sounds as if there is more demand than can be supplied by the 747-400ER. An A380 can supply 450 seats, ample cargo capacity and has more than ample range to fly DFW-SYD and SYD-DFW without being load limited or range limited at all. 310 passengers equates to 69% load factor for the Airbus A380. If QANTAS continues to stimulate demand and work well with AA making DFW a gateway city to Australia (which is very attractive to east coast residents), an A380 absolutely could be justified as the next step.

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QANTAS defers A380 deliveries

May 10, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fleets | No Comments

QANTAS is deferring delivery of 2 Airbus A380 aircraft until the 2016 and forward time period in an effort to lower costs in order to compete more successfully with Virgin Australia.

It’s a bit of a blow to the A380 program in some ways and it adds to the pain of cancelled orders from China for the A380 as well.  However, Airbus will be able to deliver the aircraft to other airlines at present.   I suspect that airlines with a substantial A380 fleet are finding the aircraft quite successful on the routes it can be deployed on and I know that Lufthansa regards it as having lower seat mile costs.

However, I continue to believe that there are only so many routes it can be deployed on to earn regular profit.  QANTAS would take delivery of these if there was enough demand as they are replacing aging 747-400 aircraft.  Lower seat mile costs are great but only if you can fill the aircraft regularly all year round.

I’m not sure all airlines are doing a very good job with that and Lufthansa’s choice in having both the 747-8i and A380 kind of speaks to the fact that while seat mile  costs are important in the equation, filling the aircraft is just as important.  A full 747-8i earns more money than an A380 at 85% load factor.

The A380 will continue to sell . . . slowly.  It will continue to be delivered and it will continue to get deployed on various routes but it remains a niche aircraft at best.  That’s OK, so is the 747-8i.  The real profit earners going forward are going to be the 777 series from Boeing and the A350 from Airbus.

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Singapore Says Goodbye

February 17, 2012 on 12:44 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

Singapore Airlines is going to offer a final, special round trip flight between Singapore and Hong Kong to say goodbye to its passengers 747-400 fleet on April 6th.  Singapore has replaced its fleet of 747-400 aircraft with 777-300ER and Airbus A380 airplanes although it will continue to operate a cargo fleet of 747-400s.

Singapore has had a long history with the 747 and despite many wondering if they’ll take on the 747-8i, I do not think they will.  This airline has enough capacity and it is the one airline that continues to succeed with the A380 in every way.  Furthermore, the 777-300ER is more than capable of filling the roles found underneath the A380. 

The future is more direct flights and the A380 and 747-8i are airliners that serve massive trunk routes better.  There are only so many of those routes so I suspect airlines will focus on one or the other aircraft despite the fact that Lufthansa isn’t going to do that.  I’ll point out that Lufthansa also still operates A340 aircraft instead of 777s.  It’s the exception that proves the rule, really.

This is the first real goodbye for the 747 but it won’t be the last.  I strongly suspect we’ll see this happen at QANTAS some time soon as well, for instance.

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777-8X/9X: Here we go

January 16, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Aspire Aviation has revealed that Boeing has issued an RFP to GE and Rolls-Royce (with speculation that Pratt & Whitney got included) for a next generation engine for the 777-8X/9X development.  The target appears to be about 100,000lbs of thrust (and I’m sure Boeing would like to hear about a growth path to that as well.)

With the combination of new technologies for the fuselage, composite wings that are likely a bit larger and a lower fuel consumption, these new aircraft would definitely be A350 beaters in every category.  The current 777 lineup performs well against the performance definitions for the A350-900 and based on comments from A350-1000 customers, the 777-300ER probably isn’t equaled on long haul routes. 

A revised 777 that upgrades the -200LR with more seats and as much range, capacity and cargo capacity would clearly be of interest to many airlines.  A -300ER that also increases its capacity with equal or better range would also be of great interest to many.  Boeing has rightly identified that its the -300ER that is likely the sweet spot in size (or a little larger) for most airlines requiring a high capacity/long range airliners for routes.

The A380 will be around for a long time.  It won’t be a big seller over the next decade and will only ever be a success if there is enough growth on long haul trunk routes to require that aircraft.  The 747-8i remains an interim solution from Boeing and it still hasn’t garnered much interest from airines.  In fact, many airlines have downsized from the 747-400 in favor of the 777-300ER.

Trunk routes will remain but there will be fewer of real importance and requiring a VLA.  The 787, A350 and 777 all permit airlines to fly more point to point routes and earn profits.  Ultra long haul flights are likely to remain more in the style of “long and thin” than “long and fat”.  After all, just how many people are likely to fly from Houston to Auckland, New Zealand even with network feed?  Answer:  Not enough to require a 777 or 747 for quite some time.

I do think Boeing has the right idea in offering a revised 777 instead of an all new design in this category.  The 777 still incorporates some fairly cutting edge technology and with a revised composite wing alone could probably continue as a category winner.

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Welcome to the New Year – Part 3

January 4, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | No Comments

2011 wasn’t the worst year for airlines and 2012 won’t be either.  Instead, I think we’ll see more of the same in most respects.

Airlines will continue to constrain their capacity and that will show more discipine than I thought they had 3 years ago.  They’ve proven me wrong and I think the results are too good for them to not to continue over the next 12 months.

Fuel costs will continue to be a difficult thing for airlines to manage.  There will continue to be volatility but I don’t think we’ll see anything like 2008/2009.  The financial crisis in Europe will reduce some demand on oil but I see no real economic growth in any part of the world that will drive demand either.  The truth is that the emerging economies are largely dependent upon demand from both Europe and North America and neither of those economies will see high growth in 2012.

Airlines will continue to make large orders for more fuel efficient narrow body aircraft.  This only makes sense as the gains are more than enough to justify the purchases and now is the time to gain an advantage in bargaining with both Boeing and Airbus.  Furthermore, airlines need to hedge against their labor costs which will only grow over time.

Aircraft manufacturers have a much more sure path for the next 10 years now.  Boeing will be biding its time on improvements to the 777 until it sees more definition of the A350-1000 and it will throw its resources into ramping up 787 production, 787-9 development and 737MAX development.  It’s possible that we’ll see a real 787-10 announcement in 2012 but, if so, probably not until the latter part of the year.

Airbus has to get its act together on the A350 and try very, very hard to prevent too much schedule slip.  Despite its efforts, I think we’ll see more schedule slip and it won’t reveal the entire picture as that unfolds.  While I don’t expect quite the same delay as the 787 saw, it will be a significant delay and it will impact Airbus.  They’ll also try to flog the A380 as much as possible and may even succeed with small orders in parts of the world it hasn’t penetrated much to date.  I do not see any US based orders for the A380.  Furthermore, Airbus made some big promises for the A320NEO and it’s got to work hard to deliver on those.  They’ve made it out like the A320NEO is a no-brainer for development and while it is an incremental improvement, the engineering to deliver is non-trivial.

Bombardier will work its tail off to sell more of the CSeries and I think it may even succeed.  The sweet spot its lineup offers will become more attractive to airlines once they see Bombardier actually perform in the development and test of this aircraft.  The CS100 isn’t the attractive aircraft but its the one that will fly and deliver first.  Once the performance of that aircraft is established, I think we’ll see orders from US and European airlines come in large numbers.

Embraer has got a nice grip on the regional airliner business but it also has a problem in that, right now, there is no growth path into a larger plane for purchasers.  It has plans to work on re-engining the E-Series but I think they’ll concede the need to develop a larger airliner as well.  The Bombardier CSeries presents just a touch too much threat in the future. 

I don’t think we’ll see much from the other regional airliners being developed.  The Mitsubishi MRJ doesn’t feel quite right for airlines to me and doesn’t offer a growth path into a larger airliner.  The orders its racked up so far are fairly paltry and at risk, in my opinion.

The Sukhoi SuperJet, on the other hand, has a real chance, I think.  It’s Westernized, it’s flying and it does feel like its the right size.  The real challenge in this aircraft is ensuring support and with Boeing as a consultant, it may well have some help in that arena.  If it does succeed, that success will begin in Europe as well as for airlines of lesser developed areas such as the Middle East, India and the Far East.   If any orders come from the US, it will be years in the making.

If anything stirs in the US airline industry, I think it will be in the LCC arena and I think it will be small(ish) if anything.  I do not think we’ll see any legacy consolidation despite wishful thinkers for a US Airways / AA merger.  Something like that becomes much more likely in 2013.

I think American Airlines will plod through its bankruptcy in 2012 with a bit of scandal here and there.  I think its labor force is about to take a beating on wages and benefits and I think the resulting bitterness will last for years.   I also think that United and Delta will be growing a bit more concerned about AA late in 2012 once they have a picture of what AA’s cost structures are likely to be.

2011 was largely a “rebuilding” year for the airline industry.  2012 will be largely so as well.  Until the world economies recover, the best the industry can hope to do is manage its problems and earn a bit of money.  That’s eminently possible for them to do.

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Welcome to the New Year – Part 2

January 3, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News | 2 Comments

World Alliances

I’m not sure we’ll see much in this territory for SkyTeam or Star Alliance.  They’ll continue to succeed and be smart in their attempts to gain more dominance in more parts of the world.  I think Oneworld is going to be smarting through this next year as a function of health problems at founding members American Airlines and QANTAS.  I also think that gaining the LATAM membership is not nearly as “sure” as they think it is. 

The Middle East

After ordering an insane amount of widebodies in 2011, Emirates will order another insane amount of widebody aircraft and beat up on Boeing about its 747-8i.  This has begun to feel like an addiction problem.

India

The airline industry in India has imploded and we’re just watching the mushroom cloud of debris settle.  For 2012, more explosions and more governmental heads will push even deeper into the sand.   Air India has already become the new Alitalia.

The Far East

Chinese airlines will order more aircraft and I expect we’ll see orders from them for 777s and A380s and possibly some A350s.  Not unlike 2011.  I don’t think we’ll hear about any stunning orders from that part of the world, however. 

China will tout its COMAC C919 even harder and most of us will try desperately to keep from laughing even harder.  Ryanair will back away from this aircraft quietly, I think. 

Japan will find ANA deploying more and more 787s on more and more routes with more and more success with that aircraft.  JAL will take delivery of its 787s and find that they not only work well for JALs needs but actually exceed expectations.  I think we’ll see an order for some more Boeing aircraft from JAL this year and I think it will be the 737MAX and 777-300ER.  No huge numbers but large enough to make a splash.

South America

LATAM got its approval from Brazilian and Chilean authorities (barely) and LATAM will begin consolidating its operations to make more money.  I think we’ll see a largish order from LATAM and it will be for an airliner to replace aircraft on both the Brazilian and Chilean side of the airline.   The aircraft of choice will be, I think, the Airbus A320NEO and I think they’ll bump up orders for the 787 and 777 as well.   TAM has 27 A350-900s ordered and I think that order *might* be at risk.  The strategy of using Airbus for narrow bodies and Boeing for wide bodies seems to be a smart one for airlines in that region.

I don’t think we’ll see more consolidation in South America but I do see South America becoming a bit of a battle ground between airline alliances.  Most see LATAM going with Oneworld and while I can’t disagree with the arguments, I think that SkyTeam and/or Star Alliance might just swoop in with one hell of a package that may be too hard to resist.  If this happens, Oneworld and American Airlines gets kicked in the groin in South America.

Aerolineas Argentinas?  The Alitalia of South America in 2011 and the same in 2012.  Enough said.

Europe:

British Airways managed to get through 2011 without any huge problems and saw Willie Walsh move up to the CEO position of International Airlines Group which means Willie’s still in charge.  Iberia, British Airways’ sister airline, saw Willie stirring things up with plans for a LCC subsidiary.  Iberia pilots decided to strike because shooting onself in the foot can’t be just an Indian thing.   IAG also managed to get a tentative deal to buy BMI from Lufthansa and become the Emperor of slots at London Heathrow . . . maybe.

Virgin Atlantic didn’t die, didn’t find new partners and didn’t extricate itself from the chokehold that Singapore Airlines has on it.  Richard Branson actually didn’t make the news very often except to shout, stamp his feet and act insulted that Virgin Atlantic wasn’t able to do a deal to win BMI.  Expect Virgin Atlantic aircraft to start carrying some message against the IAG deal for BMI.  I actually think that Virgin Atlantic will have to find an airline alliance to join and if I’m right, I would lay very heavy odds on it being the Star Alliance. 

Lufthansa did itself a favor and got rid of BMI and I expect they’ll continue their very conservative mangement of the airline and the subsidiary airlines.  I do wonder how much longer Lufthansa can rely upon its A340 aircraft and somewhat expect Lufthansa to bite the bullet and buy the 777.

KLM/Air France:  I see nothing here at all.  Not in 2012.  I don’t expect a large widebody order nor a narrowbody order. 

I do expect Ryanair to make an order and I do think it will be the 737MAX.  In fact, I think it may well end up being the 737MAX-9 instead of the 737MAX-8.  Instead of repudiating the C919, Michael O’Leary will just quit talking about it.  Instead, he’ll suggest stripper poles could be installed on Ryanair aircraft. 

All in all, I think it will be a tough year for European airlines.  The financial crisis on that continent will make it very hard to earn an honest profit and Middle Eastern airlines will continue to erode the long haul traffic that European airlines have enjoyed for decades.

Tomorrow, a summary of what I see for 2012 and the world airline industry.

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A380 in Texas

December 8, 2011 on 12:51 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

Lufthansa has announced its intention to use the A380 on flights to Houston next year in August.   The airline currently uses the 747-400 for a once daily service between Houston and Frankfurt.  That’s an increase of capacity of at least seats.

It’s difficult to guess whether or not that is justified but I suspect that this might be more about retiring 747-400 aircraft and an A380 can provide the lift for the same costs. 

Lufthansa is also a 747-8i customer and I think we’ll see that aircraft used on routes like that as it is introduced into the fleet.  However, it is possible that United and Lufthansa will engage in a strong codeshare and funnel more traffic onto the Lufthansa flight.  United (Continental) currently flies a 767-400 on the route and it is quite possible they’ll reduce that flight to a 767-300 or even a 787.

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United Airlines and the A380

December 5, 2011 on 12:37 pm | In Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Airbus COO John Leahy is opining that United Airlines will ultimately add the A380 to its fleet because, in his opinion, it is the only way to be competitive in the Asia Pacific markets United serves.

I would suppose that anything is possible but I would also offer that I think this is highly unlikely for the near term.  By that, I mean you shouldn’t go looking for a United announcement about this over the next 5 years. 

United already struggles to figure out what to do with its 747 aircraft (as do most US based airlines) and that’s based on the fact that people here in the United States are looking for direct, non-stop flights rather than trips that require a flight to a “hub” city first.

The A380 might ultimately fit into the Asia Pacific strategies for both United and Delta but I don’t see it right now.  Other than the ability to “concentrate” more passengers onto a single flight, the A380 doesn’t offer these airlines anything more than what they already have in their current and planned fleets.  The idea that people *want* an A380 because it is an A380 is a bit foolish at best. 

What people want is market competitive inflight service and the best available travel time.  That can be accomplished profitably with the 777 and 787 fleets that these airlines will have.

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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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