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Boeing in no rush to fast-track future widebody strategy

  • Production ramp-up beyond 10/month inevitable with 787-10X development
  • 787-10X Gate 4 formal launch scheduled in June 2013
  • 787-10X MEW determined at 264,000lbs, versus 787-9′s 250,000lbs
  • 787-10X may feature improved range, become platform for rolling out improvements
  • Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Package B still 3% higher than original SFC
  • 787-8 to be “few hundred kilograms” over Rev K specification on MEW by LN140-150
  • Boeing likely to launch 777-300ER+, reducing fuel burn by 4-5%

Since the European plane-maker Airbus inaugurated its sprawling 74,000m² final assembly line (FAL) factory for the US$15 billion A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) aircraft programme in Toulouse, France on 23rd October, the potential competitive response from its transatlantic arch-rival Boeing has captured widespread media attention. As Airbus makes progress in manufacturing the first A350-900 flight test aircraft ahead of its first flight in mid-2013 and first delivery in the second half of 2014 following a string of delays, Boeing is under increasing pressure from some of its customers to launch a revamped 777, dubbed the 777X, sooner rather than later as the future widebody battle begins to take shape.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways, a strong Boeing 777-300ER customer with an eventual fleet of 50 aircraft, has ordered an additional 10 350-seat Airbus A350-1000s this July with a total of 22 A350-900s and 28 A350-1000s on order. United Airlines, the world’s biggest airline and an airline considered close to the US plane-maker, is reportedly holding discussions to order additional A350-1000s, or switch some of its 25 A350-900s on order, to the larger variant as a 747-400 replacement.

And the outspoken chairman of Dubai-based Emirates Airline, Tim Clark, is increasingly vociferous and exerting even more pressure on the airframer to move swiftly to launch the revamped 777X that features a supercritical carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) wing and a next-generation engine.

Rather than responding swiftly, Chicago-based airframer Boeing seems to be overprotective of its darling, the lucrative 365-seat 777-300ER cash-cow aircraft that helped garner 200 sales for the jet last year alone albeit this year’s sluggish global economy dragged the year-to-date net sales to only 17 examples at press time.

Image Courtesy of Boeing

Production ramp-up beyond 10 per month inevitable with 787-10X
In contrast to the notion that Boeing’s inaction on its future widebody strategy is effectively ceding grounds to Airbus, Boeing is arguably taking the time necessary to develop products that meet customers’ needs and deliver shareholder returns by understanding the future widebody market more fully before finalising its plan and making commitments that carry significant implications on the company’s future for years and decades to come.

Quite frankly, determining the future widebody production timeline is a decision that Boeing should not take lightly by any means as it not only involves billions of dollars in capital investment, it also bets the entire company’s future on these key development projects, thereby considerably eroding the margins of error in the lucrative twin-aisle market which is forecast to require 7,950 new airplanes valued at US$2.08 trillion in the next 20 years, even eclipsing the single-aisle market over the same period in terms of value which will see 23,240 new airplanes valued at US$2.03 trillion being demanded, according to the latest current market outlook (CMO) released by the world’s second-largest airframer.

The stakes involved could not be any higher. This is particularly true after the bitter lessons Boeing learnt from the difficult initial stage of the 787 production following its roll-out in July 2007, when the delamination in the 787′s side-of-body area, shortage of fasteners and a 58-day International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) strike in fall 2008, brought the programme to its knees. In order to enhance the control and oversight over the 787′s outsourced global supply chain, Boeing agreed to pay US$580 million in cash and another US$422 million in advance payments to buy out Vought Aircraft’s 50% stake in Global Aeronautica’s South Carolina plant and subsequently Alenia’s remaining 50% stake in 2009.

This, coupled with an in-flight fire in November 2010 over Laredo, Texas due to a foreign object debris (FOD) in the P100 electrical panel that prompted a redesign in the aircraft’s electrical system software (ESS) and build quality issues such as the incorrectly installed shim inside the horizontal stabiliser built by Italy-based Alenia, resulted in perennial delivery delays and cost overruns which saw the first 787 only being delivered on 25 September 2011, more than 3 years late from the originally envisaged May 2008 delivery target.

As it currently stands, the gross inventory of the 787 is US$24.8 billion at the end of the 2012 third-quarter, US$1.3 billion higher than at the end of the second-quarter, with a US$14.3 billion deferred production balance featuring 53 work-in-process (WIP) examples, which is expected to hit a peak of US$20 billion and start declining steadily afterwards following successfully achieving the ambitious production ramp-up to 10 units per month by the end of 2013.

Therefore one of the most important pre-requisites of the formal launch of the 323-seat 787-10X is the supply chain readiness to ramp the 787 production beyond the 10 per month production rate, which further strengthens the business case of the 787-10X in terms of availability, margin and production cost, thereby improving the possibility of successfully achieving profitability of the entire 787 programme in one fell swoop.

For example, the backlog of the 787 programme remains strong at 806 unfilled orders, after delivering 38 airplanes since September 2011 with a total order tally of 844 units, and current 787 deliveries are already stretching into the 2018-2019 timeframe, if not longer, which implies that should Boeing be serious in reducing the size of its backlog and bring the game-changing 787-10X into the marketplace by 2018-2019 as currently envisioned, a production rate ramp beyond 10 aircraft per month is inevitable.

Former Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Jim Albaugh had hinted in April this year that the company’s two 787 final assembly lines in Everett, Washington and North Charleston, South Carolina, have the capability of producing 7 examples per month for a total of 14 units per month after ramping up the 787 production to 10 units per month at the end of 2013, with Everett churning out 7 examples per month and the South Carolina line producing the remainder.

The recent successful achievement of a rate break to 5 airplanes per month with the roll-out of LN83 does give Wall Street analysts and investors alike grounds for some comfort and more confidence, as Boeing seems to be on track to achieve a rate break of 7 per month in March or April 2013 before finally reaching the 10 per month milestone at the end of 2013. This has renewed the general confidence in the 787′s learning curve and the company’s cost-reduction initiatives undertaken to improve the profitability of the programme.

“Unit deferred production (DP) declined to ~US$100M from US$118M in Q2. However, this is a blend between 3 learning curves: two production lines (a more mature Everett & Charleston, which is just ramping) and EMC (change incorp). Everett has made the most progress and EMC is doing okay, but difficult change incorp units remain. DP should peak late ‘14/early ’15 at ~$20B ($14.3B in Q3), which marks the milestone at which cash cost matches book cost. Said differently, BA expects DP/unit to fall from $100M/unit to zero in 8-10 quarters, but the slope remains anyone’s guess due to the 3 curves,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a note to clients on 24th October.

“We now see Boeing as on the backside of challenges on the 787. We now see the 787 as proceeding well on schedule and quality, which should drive top and bottom line performance and cash flow,” New York-based boutique investment bank Bernstein Research said in a November 19th note to clients.

In doing so, not only could Boeing reap the benefits of economies of scale and adopt more lean manufacturing practices on the 787 production line, thus lowering overall per unit production cost and improving the unit profit margin, this also opens the door for better 787 pricing after early unsatisfactorily low 787 pricing, coupled with sizeable compensation related to the perennial 787 delays, resulted in deepening losses as Boeing delivers each early-ordered 787, evidenced in Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ declining operating margin in the 2012 third-quarter to 9.5% compared to 11.4% a year ago.

Hence Boeing must be careful not to provide too much heavily-discounted launch pricing to potential 787-10X customers as some 787-9 customers are seeking to switch to the larger double-stretched variant as a means of providing indirect compensation for their delayed 787-9 deliveries. According to Aspire Aviation‘s sources at the Chicago-based plane-maker, one such customer is Singapore Airlines (SIA), which has remained very keen for its wholly-owned low-cost subsidiary Scoot Airlines to be a 787-10X launch customer through a combination of order conversions and additional orders in order to operate a mixed 787 fleet that suits its needs over medium-haul intra-Asia low-cost flights with the -9 complementing this over the longer-haul low-cost market segment, after transferring its 20 787-9 orders to Scoot on 24th October.

Simply put, Boeing must redouble its effort to maintain the pricing of the 787-10X and not to cannibalise its margin for it to have a realistic chance of achieving a low to mid single-digit margin over the initial production block of 1,100 units as it adds an expected wave of fresh 787-10X orders to its order book once it is formally launched.

This very need to boost the profitability of the 787 programme by launching the 787-10X variant, which makes successfully achieving the ambitious 787 production ramp-up all the more important, Aspire Aviation believes, complicates the talk with its engineers union Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) as Boeing on the one hand cannot let its labour cost spiral out of control amid intensifying competition with Airbus in the widebody segment, yet on the other hand it cannot risk derailing the 787 production ramp-up plan which is crucial to the 787 programme’s profitability and its 787-10X development.

Nevertheless Aspire Aviation predicts an eventual agreement being reached by both sides despite SPEEA’s balking at Boeing’s second contract offer which was termed as “across-the-board pay and benefit cuts” despite an improved offer of annual pay raises of 4.5%, 4%, 4.5% and 4% in each of the following 4 years for the union’s engineers, or 3.5%, 3%, 3.5% and 3% for its technical workers over the same period, as both sides have incentives to create the common good and make Boeing successful in the future.

Image Courtesy of Boeing

787-10X platform for rolling out improvements
In the first step towards formally launching the 323-seat 787-10X double-stretched variant, Boeing’s board of directors has given the authority to offer (ATO) over the 787-10X in October, which enabled Boeing to advance its commercial talks and discuss pricing details with potential customers such as Scoot Airlines and British Airways (BA), which Aspire Aviation‘s sources have said is in “advanced discussions” for up to 60 examples as a replacement of its 46 strong Boeing 777-200ER fleet over most transatlantic routes (“Launch of Boeing 787-10X has implications on 777X programme“, 22nd Oct, 12).

“We are beginning to discuss more details about the airplane with customers. We anticipate strong market demand for this third and largest member of the 787 Dreamliner family,” Boeing spokeswoman Karen Crabtree was quoted as saying.

“The timing of a decision to launch the programme will depend on market response during this next phase of our discussions about the airplane”, and that those discussions are “conditioned upon our obtaining final board approval to launch the programme at a yet-to-be-determined date”, Crabtree added.

While this has spurred significant interests from potential customers such as Qatar Airways whose chief executive Akbar Al-Baker characterised the 787-10X as having “one of the best seat-mile costs of any airliner”, Boeing officials indicated there is still some way to go before its formal launch.

“We’ve got a lot of support all the way through the company including our board of directors. Clearly our customers have told us that they would prefer us to focus on fuel-burn economics versus extending range,” Boeing 787 programme vice president (VP) and general manager (GM) Larry Loftis said on Monday.

“We still have some more work to do before we’d be ready to launch the programme and/or be given authority to launch the programme,” Loftis said.

Indeed, Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at Chicago-based Boeing have independently confirmed that the 787-10X’s formal launch, or Gate 4, is currently scheduled to take place in June 2013 ahead of the Paris Air Show next year and that Boeing is eyeing the 787-10X as the platform for rolling out further improvements.

787-10X

3-class passenger no.

323

Range

6,700 nm (GE)

6,750 nm (RR)

12,408 km (GE)

12501 km (GE)

Max Take-off Weight (MTOW)

250,800 kg

553,000 lb

Max Landing Weight (MLW)

201,800 kg

445,000 lb

Max Zero Fuel Weight (MZFW)

192,800 kg

425,000 lb

Manufacturer’s Empty Weight (MEW)

119,748 kg

264,000 lb

Overall length

68.28 m

224 ft

Wingspan

60.0 m

197 ft

Diameter

5.77 m

18.9 ft

Cabin Width

5.49 m

18.0 ft

Engines

Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN

General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2

Thrust (lbs)

76,000 (RR)

75,000 (GE)

Source: Aspire Aviation

For instance, engine improvement is going to be a key focus of the 787-10X development, with the more fuel efficient 76,000lbs Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN (Thrust Efficiency New Technology) engine and 75,000lbs General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2 (performance improvement package) engine being featured.

In particular, the new Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN engine would reduce the engine’s specific fuel consumption (SFC) by 3% from the Package B standard and meet the original SFC target after the latest tweaks to the engine included in the Package B improvements still had a SFC shortfall of 3%, against earlier reports of the Package B engine missing the original SFC by 2% while the Package A engine had a 4.3% SFC shortfall, people familiar with the situation said. The TEN engine will incorporate design tweaks such as rising line intermediate pressure compressor (IPC) and blisks in the first 3 stages of the high pressure compressor (HPC) but it will only enter into service in 2016, implying that the Package C engine which provides a 1% incremental improvement in SFC is still 2% short of the original target in the foreseeable future.

In addition, the manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) of the 787-10X has settled at 119.7 tonnes (264,000lbs), versus the 787-9′s 113.4t (250,000lbs) and is “disproportionately larger than an increase required under a simple stretch”, suggesting that Boeing could yet raise the 787-10X’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 250.8t (553,000lbs) to further improve the aircraft’s payload/range performance, the same sources say.

This could satisfy different customers’ requirements by allowing a higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) which Asian airlines could utilise by adding more seats and minimising the seat-mile cost of the aircraft on intra-Asia routes or utilise the aircraft’s range fully at a reasonable payload over longer sectors such as transatlantic routes to be flown by British Airways (BA) or other European and US carriers, thereby solving the dilemma in one fell swoop and catering to the demands by aircraft lessors such as Air Lease Corporation’s (ALC) founder and chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy who expressed publicly of wanting to see the -10X’s range being increased to 7,000nm mark.

Currently, the 5.49m (18ft) stretch of the 280-seat Boeing 787-9 with a 4-frame stretch in the aft fuselage and a 5-frame stretch in the forward fuselage has a range of 6,700nm or 6,750nm when powered by the GEnx-1B PIP2 and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN engines, respectively.

This bodes exceptionally well for the 787-10X’s market appeal when considering its 25% lower block fuel burn per seat than the A330-300, in addition to a 10% and 5% lower cash operating cost (COC) per seat than the 314-seat A350-900 and 350-seat A350-1000, respectively. This is particularly attractive for airlines on medium-haul routes where the extra range is not needed and the 787-10X’s existing range of 6,700nm could already cover 85% and 84% of all the 353-seat 777-8X and 314-seat A350-900 missions, respectively, as well as 96.5% of A330-200 HGW’s (High Gross Weight), let alone the 787-10X seats 27.6% more passengers at 323 seats in a standard 3-class configuration than the 253-seat A330-200 and has a larger revenue cargo volume.

The 787-10X is currently envisioned to reach ‘Gate 4′, or formal launch in June 2013, the milestone of firm configuration in the second half of 2014, a roll-out in first half 2017 followed by an entry into service (EIS) in 2018 to 2019.

“The market will tell us really when that is, but really we’re looking at the back end of this decade,” Boeing 787 programme vice president (VP) and general manager (GM) Larry Loftis said.

In the meantime, the introduction of the 787-10X could feature new improvements or weight savings that are likely to benefit its smaller siblings, especially the smallest -8 variant which Aspire Aviation firstly reported Boeing is going to miss the originally targeted manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) and airline-specific operating empty weight (OEW) by line number 90 (LN 90) and that the 787-8 is still going to be “hundreds of kilograms” overweight compared to the ‘Rev K’ specification by LN140-150, people close to the matter said.

As the significantly lighter 787-9 parts become more readily available, the overweight issue of the -8 should be improved gradually, although Boeing has not set a new LN target for the -8 meeting the original weight specifications as of this writing. This is evidenced by the fact that the first 787-9 to be built, LN126, will meet its original MEW and OEW targets with later-built examples being 2% underweight, Aspire Aviation reported, helped by the elimination of side-of-body modification which saves 363kg (800lbs) in weight as the two titanium fittings installed on the upper and lower sides of each 787-8 wing are held together by hundreds of fasteners, thereby incurring a weight penalty and increasing fatigue risk.

“The weight of the airplane [787-9] has been very stable through the whole programme,” Loftis revealed. “We improved it [by] a couple hundred pounds,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) senior vice president (SVP) and general manager (GM) of airplane programmes Pat Shanahan commented.

A350-1000 brings the widebody race on
While the 787 is facing a declining risk profile in spite of the production ramp-up and 787-10X development, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction for Airbus’ A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) programme.

After a €124 million special charge recorded in 2012 first-half and pushing back the entry into service (EIS) of the baseline A350-900 variant to the second half of 2014, Airbus has managed to resolve the automated wing drilling glitches at its Broughton, UK wing factory and A350 programme manager Didier Everard expressed his confidence of meeting the mid-2013 first flight target.

However, the automated wing drilling glitch was simply one of many challenges facing the programme, with weight being another notable example. According to Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Airbus, the baseline A350-900 variant is around 3 tonnes overweight whereas the -1000 is approximately 5 tonnes overweight, with Emirates chief executive Tim Clark saying in an Aviation Week report the aircraft is “overweight and late” and the carrier’s -1000 order “is in limbo”.

“That’s still to be seen as far as the weight of the aircraft is concerned. But in the briefings over the last 24 hours it’s clear they understand the concerns and are addressing those issues and if necessary Rolls-Royce will have made sure there’s a little extra power. They understand what the issues are and where they have to be and are on top of things, particularly in terms of weight control,” Air Lease Corporation (ALC) chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy conceded.

Make no mistake, while the A350 programme is under increasing risks ahead of its first flight in mid-2013, ultimate load testing, overweight issue, it is noteworthy that the overweight issue is a typical one across aircraft programmes at an early stage and this could be addressed through learning from flight testing and structural testing experience. In comparison, the first 787 ever built, LN1 is 9.75 tonnes (21,500lbs) overweight and LN7-19 are 6.1t (13,500lbs) overweight whereas examples after LN20 are 3.99t (8,800lbs) overweight, with 787-8 examples between LN140 and LN150 being “hundreds of kilograms” overweight.

Meanwhile, with Airbus targeting the 777-300ER replacement market, Aspire Aviation believes it makes strategic and commercial sense for Airbus to swap the entry into service (EIS) dates of the A350-800 and -1000, which are in mid-2016 and mid-2017, respectively.

“There is a trend to slightly bigger aircraft everywhere in the world, and we’ll probably sell more than we expected. We will need extra capacity and we are prepared for that,” Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier said in a Bloomberg interview.

First of all, the A350-800 is not an optimised airplane with the most heavily penalised fuel burn and overweight issue and customers have been shifting away from this variant for larger, more fuel efficient and economical versions, with Qatar Airways switching its order for 20 A350-800s to possibly -900s and -1000s and Libya’s Afriqiyah Airways converting its 6 -800 orders into -900 ones in addition to ordering 4 extra examples.

Importantly, with Airbus’ ambition to challenge Boeing’s leadership position in the 300-400 seat segment and sell 70 to 80 -1000s per year instead of the 40-50 originally envisaged, Airbus should prioritise the A350-1000 development and ensure the early availability of the A350-1000 as it enables airlines to obtain a 350-seat jet that is most fuel efficient per seat as soon as possible in light of a toxic mix of stubbornly high fuel prices, a sluggish global economic recovery assuming the US fiscal cliff does not take place, and intensifying long-haul competition.

“The sequence may change depending on the market if there is increasing demand for the -900 and -1000,” Airbus A350 programme manager Didier Everard said.

With Airbus planning a production ramp-up to 1 unit per month in late-2013, 2 per month in 2014, 4 per month in 2015 before achieving a 10 per month production rate in 2018, it could maximise its returns by building more A350-1000s and minimise the risk in this ambitious ramp-up through rationalising the A350 production plan and executing a more strategically focused one.

“The A350 XWB final assembly line is designed to be flexible and to be able to produce all three members of the A350 family (-800, -900, -1000). We are working on a ramp-up to 10 per month to be reached four years after the first A350 XWB delivery and are constantly and closely following market trends so that we anticipate and adapt our production to meet our customers’ needs,” an Airbus spokeswoman told Reuters.

Ironically, while the A350-1000 will be the most fuel efficient 350-seat aircraft with a 25% lower fuel burn per seat despite the lower payload, 15 fewer passengers and a smaller revenue cargo volume than the 365-seat 777-300ERs before the 407-seat 777-9X enters into service in mid-2019 or even later, swapping the EIS dates of A350-800s and -1000s arguably aids Boeing’s development of the revamped 777, dubbed the 777X.

One of the reservations Boeing has about the development of the 777X is the final firm configuration of the A350-1000 and its future capabilities in terms of fuel burn and payload/range performance. With Airbus and Boeing being locked in a two-horse race, both sides are effectively sitting out and waiting to watch what its competitor’s product would look like and how it would perform. As Airbus is undeniably ahead and is more advanced in the development of the A350-1000, it should leap forward and advance the -1000′s EIS should it be convinced about the -1000′s technology and a lighter carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) fuselage.

Intriguingly, this also means Airbus will have to finalise its A350-1000 configuration sooner than it otherwise will, thus giving Boeing leverage to take the time to develop its 777X that will make the revamped 777 become more competitive.

The 777X development programme consists of a 407-seat 777-9X and a 353-seat -8X, in addition to a low priority -8LX ultra long-range model. The -9X will be 76.48m (250ft 11in) long and have an 8,000nm (nautical miles) range, a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 344 tonnes (759,000lbs), a 21% lower fuel burn per seat and 16% lower cash operating cost (COC) per seat than the 365-seat 777-300ER. The 353-seat 777-8X, meanwhile, will be 69.55m long and feature a MTOW of 315t which will also have an 8,000nm range.

While the authority to offer (ATO) of the 777X is admittedly delayed, the engine race between General Electric (GE), Derby, England-based Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) and their offerings, the GE9X, RB3025 and possibly a 100,000lbs geared turbofan (GTF) is still ongoing, albeit Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Pratt & Whitney (P&W) acknowledge its chance of being selected as the engine supplier to the 777X is “diminishing”.

Evendale, Ohio-based engine-maker General Electric (GE), on the other hand, is understood to be the frontrunner of the engine race, over which Boeing is expected to make a decision on whether to press ahead with a dual-source or a sole-source strategy late this year and name the engine supplier in the 2013 first-quarter. It is adhering to its technology test plan for the GE9X, Aviation Week says, with the first run of a new engine core taking place in 2014, a “Toll Gate 6″ final design in 2015, first engine to test (FETT) in 2016 before obtaining its engine certification in 2018 and supporting the 777-9X’s entry into service (EIS) in mid-2019.

The 325cm (128in) fan size GE9X will have a “very close to 10%” reduction in engine specific fuel consumption (SFC), a 10:1 bypass ratio, 60:1 overall pressure ratio (OPR) and 27:1 high pressure compressor ratio, versus the 42:1 and 23:1 ratios on the GE90-115B engine that it replaces, as well as a third-generation twin annular pre-mixing swirler (TAPS III) combustor.

On the material choice, Boeing is still evaluating a carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) wing and a metallic wing, with the metallic wing leading to a 5% worse fuel burn per seat, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Boeing said. The same sources pointed out that the preparations for a full-scale demonstrator are already made, with related activities taking place behind the 40-25 and 40-26 buildings.

For Boeing, the Chicago-based airframer believes it still has time on its side, especially the 777-300ER is nevertheless going to be the most fuel efficient “big-twin” until the A350-1000 enters into service with its EIS date still being uncertain due to risks of a potential further delivery delay and that Aspire Aviation predicts Boeing will eventually implement the performance improvement package (PIP) dubbed the 777-300ER+ that will reduce block fuel burn of the aircraft by 4%-5% before the 777-9X’s proposed EIS in late this decade or early next decade.

The 777-300ER+ will feature a recontoured belly fairing that reduces the aircraft’s aerodynamic drag, further weight reductions and an improved GE90-115B engine, the same sources say.

Moreover, it is relatively easy for one to forget the fact that the block fuel burn of the 777-300ER has already been reduced by 3.6% since it enters into service with Air France in 2004 and it burns 2.8 litres (L) of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres (km), versus the A340-600′s 3.8L and the 747-400′s 3.4L.

“We will have several variants and improvements for the 777 in place before the A350-1000 even hits the market,” Boeing Middle East president Jeff Johnson said in a Reuters interview.

“There is demand for the 777X, but what this really comes down to is the trade-off. I think you’ll see it in the near term. I don’t know if near term is tomorrow, next year or two years. But we are going to stay very close to our customers. Our strategy is to stay close, see what they need and we will roll that out,” Johnson asserted.

Lastly, once the 407-seat 777-9X enters into service, it will be an airplane in its own class, enabling fast-growing Asian and Middle Eastern airlines to carry more passengers and revenue cargoes without compromising flight frequency and revenue cargo volume. Its business case is strengthened by a strong customer base with large 777 operators such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines (SIA), Cathay Pacific, Air France, British Airways (BA), Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL), just to name a few.

In conclusion, while it is true that Boeing may not deliver a knock-out blow to Airbus in taking the time necessary to develop the right products and bring them onto the marketplace at the right time, it is nonetheless possible for the Chicago-based airframer to draft a widebody strategy that besieges Airbus from both the lower end and the upper end of the widebody segment with the 787-10X and 777X as the former fills the void in Airbus’ widebody strategy where there is no true one-to-one A330 replacement and the latter caters for the growing air travel demand in the Asia/Pacific region. And Boeing’s conservative approach over the 787-10X and 777X derivative programmes is, quite frankly, carefully drawn from the painful lesson it learnt from the 787 and its implications on the company’s engineering, financial resources and oversight on its global supply chain.

As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”

19 Comments

  1. Michael Bohnet November 28, 2012 Reply

    Daniel,

    First off, thank you for this thorough and timely update. I have enjoyed all of your articles about the 787 program, and you did not disappoint me here. I appreciate the level of detail that you consistently exhibit in your work, because, as they say, “the devil is in the details”.

    There is one thing you will have to change, however. Since it appears that Boeing will eclipse Airbus this year in both orders and deliveries, you’ll have to start referring to Airbus as the “world’s second largest airframer” instead of Boeing:)

    Seriously though, according to your own analysis or your review of others analyses, what is your estimate of when the 787 unit cost will be less than the average sale price? I know it is difficult to know what the real sale price is but I thought I’d ask. Also, what learning curve do you think the 787 production system is on or near.

    Regards,
    Mike

  2. Author
    Daniel Tsang November 28, 2012 Reply

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for the praise.

    On the world’s No. 1 plane-maker, I’m aware of Boeing’s course to reclaim the top orders & deliveries spot from Airbus this year.

    However, it’s slightly more suitable if I only use “Boeing, the world’s largest airframer” after the tile has been achieved.

    On 787 cash unit cost, JP Morgan cited the average unit cost declining to just over US$100 mln apiece.

    But given the low margin booked on early units, to as low as US$40 mln that I hear, that gives you a picture of the early 787 loss.

    On learning curve, UBS has always said the 787 LC should be 18% like the 777, not 24% as required.

    But it’s really hard to estimate, although we know the 787′s LC is progressing well.

    • Michael Bohnet November 28, 2012 Reply

      Daniel,

      Thank you very much for your reply. You dropped a shocker on me. $40M for a 787-8 with game changing technology?!!! Isn’t that about an 80% markdown? Why on earth would Boeing be willing to do that? I didn’t think Boeing was that hard up for a launch customer. Is it typical for launch customers to get such a sweet deal?

      As for the learning curve, the only reason I think that 24% might possibly be doable is because the 787 is Boeing’s first airliner where the primary structure is fabricated from composites. I know Boeing has previous experience with this on their military side, but producing a large aircraft to commercial certification standards is a horse of a different color. Because of this, it would seem that the 787 production system would be rife with opportunities for learning and improvement, more so than for its more typical aluminum skinned aircraft programs.

      How Boeing does climbing the learning curve is the single most important factor that will determine how long the 787 program takes to break even, if ever, so it will be interesting watching what happens.

      Again, thanks for your reply.

  3. Eric Sees November 28, 2012 Reply

    I love the “world’s largest airframer” debate. It is so trivial, but nonetheless invokes much emotion on both sides. Shouldn’t the world’s largest airframer be the one who produced the most airliners in service? Or perhaps the one that delivered the most airliners in the previous year? Or perhaps the one with the biggest backlog? Or how about the most profitable airframer? I would argue the one with the greatest market cap is the world’s “largest”.

    Seriously though, I think Daniel’s article is very sensible. It’s hard to argue with anything in it. The two biggest questions going forward are:

    Will the 787-10 really beat the A333 fuel burn by 25%? Probably come close if it doesn’t hit the mark.

    Will the A350-1000 really beat 777-300ER fuel burn by 25%? That seems unlikely due to the incremental improvements on the -300ER.

    That task is made especially difficult because it appears the -1000 will not carry the same payload a -300ER carries thereby requiring a trip cost improvement of more than 25%.Factor in typical Airbus maintenance and reliability issues and I think EADS will have trouble with this program. And therein lies the reason Boeing is not panicky and rushing to fill a void like they had to with the 737Max.

  4. keesje November 28, 2012 Reply

    The 777-200ER/LR were wiped away by A359/A333 sales during the last 5 yrs. The proposed 777-8 got a cool reception by the airlines. I think the 787-10 is a much better idea to replace the 777-200ER/LR. Pressure to increase its MTOW was and will be always there. The 787-8 wing (787-9 wing was skipped) no doubt has become a limiting factor. (remember the Boeing picture stating the A350 wing is too heavy..)

    But it lacks its payload range. It won’t be very suitable for long flights from Asia. Forget the quoted passengers only, cool sea level airfield and no winds range of up to 6750 NM. Airlines don’t even look at them. Here’s a 5000NM range from HKG. A good Asian coverage, just like the A330-300.

    http://www.gcmap.com/map?P=&R=5000NM%40HKG4800NM%40HKG&MS=wls&MR=1800&MX=720×360&PM=*

    RE A350-1000. I think we have to watch the strong 777 customer base (CX, SQ, BA, AF/
    KL, ANA, UA, AA) and see if they want to wait for 2020/21 to start receiving a yet undefined, probably still heavy 777-9′.

    Btw, I see their no room for the new Queen of the skies in your article on Boeings FUTURE WIDEBODY STRATEGY.

  5. Author
    Daniel Tsang November 28, 2012 Reply

    I usually don’t comment except being specifically asked to…

    keesje, Boeing’s 6,750nm range does assume an 85% annual wind, as pointed out in the discussion involving the previous 787-10X article.

    • keesje November 29, 2012 Reply

      Daniel, airline ranges include airport elevation/ temperature, winds/jetstreams, diversion airports, cargo, taxi fuel, limitted runway lenght, required climb profiles, runway condition etc.

      At MTOW and a moderate day from China, 5000NM seems an ambitious target for the 787-10X.

      Btw, Airbus further enhances the A330-300, higher MTOW, activating the center wingbox tank. Sharklets probably within a few months and then probably the cream on the cake; a Trent Ten, GENX or GP7000 variant. Production will rise to 11 a month.

      http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/airbus-to-raise-a330-take-off-weight-and-fuel-capacity-379583/

  6. michael di marco November 29, 2012 Reply

    Do the listed -9 & -10X MEW; 250,000 & 264,000 include the seats weigh?
    Thanks,

    • Author
      Daniel Tsang November 29, 2012 Reply

      Yes. Boeing MEW includes seats, interior and some operator’s items (OI).

      • Hugh Drogemuller November 29, 2012 Reply

        Boeings definition of OEW not MEW is as follows:

        “Weight of structure, powerplant, furnishing systems, unusable fuel and other unusable propulsion agents, and other items of equipment that are considered an integral part of a particular airplane configuration. Also included are certain standard items, personnel, equipment, and supplies necessary for full operations, excluding usable fuel and payload.”

        With respect I believe in this instance you have confused Boeings MEW and Airbus’s MWE definition which are not the same. The 264,000lb more closely matches the Airbus MWE definition.
        To get the 6750nm range at max passenger load PIANO-X , a respected modelling program , suggest the OEW of the 787-10 will be about 132t.

        • Author
          Daniel Tsang November 29, 2012 Reply

          OEW = MEW + SI + OI

          Boeing includes seats and some operator items (OI) in calculating MEW, which Airbus does not, thus leading to a 2-4 tonne difference on an A320/737-sized airplane.

  7. G durken November 29, 2012 Reply

    Hi Daniel,

    First Great Article as always.

    Question for the 787 Program
    Are they going to a make a 787-10 ER or LR in addition to the 787-10? That would make sense as a compliment to the 787-10 and would completely replace the 777-200ER/LR,

    Question for the 777 Program
    If the 787-10 kills the 777-8X before it is launch, do you think Boeing will look at a 777-9/10X and drop the 8?

    Question for the 747 Program
    Will there be a 747-9 or 10? It seems like the 777 is eating away at the 747 marketplace and it really doesn’t have more legs.

    Question for the 797 Program
    Is the 737 MAX the last Single Aisle jet that Boeing makes? As Domestic Airlines continue to want larger and larger planes, will the 737 Replacement be a twin Aisle?

    -ER

  8. michael di marco November 29, 2012 Reply

    Daniel
    Thanks for the clarification regarding Boeing’s definition of MEW. However, there is another parameter that you having addressed at all regarding -10X. That is its cargo volume.
    -8: 28 LD-3
    -9: 36 LD-3
    -10X: 44 LD-3?
    All the current analyses state it to be 42 LD-3?
    What is the correct number?
    Thanks

    • keesje December 2, 2012 Reply

      With so many positions for LD3s, payload range restrictions are around the corned. Still the flexibility on medium flights is never a burden..

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