• 787-10 ‘Gate 4′ formal launch still planned in June 2013
  • Time between start of final assembly & flight testing on 787-9 narrowed to 4 months
  • Folding wingtip decided for 777X
  • 800lbs weight penalty for 777X folding wingtip, compared to 3,200lbs for 777-200 study in 1995
  • Folding wingtip contains no moveable parts, to be operated electrically
  • 777X has same wing span as 777-300ER on the ground & stay as ‘Code E’ aircraft, ‘Code F’ on runway & in the air
  • Folding wingtip to be certified in ‘folded up’ position
  • 777X wing boasts ‘4th-generation’ CFRP wing, 12% better L/D than -300ER
  • No engine decision being made for 777X, originally due in December

It is yet another déjà vu. After successfully beating a delivery target of 35-42 examples and achieving a ramp-up in its production rate to 5 units per month, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was on an upbeat note with 46 units being handed over to the customers last year. Unfortunately, the good times did not last. An emergency landing by a United Airlines 787 on December 4 last year to New Orleans while en route from Houston to Newark owing to what vice president (VP) and chief project engineer Mike Sinnett characterised as “a low-energy arc that lasted milliseconds” on an electrical panel, along with a United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness directive (AD) on December 5 over the plane’s improperly installed fuel couplings, opened a pandora’s box that saw the ultimate grounding of the worldwide 787 fleet which plunged the once-beleaguered aircraft programme back in limbo.

Yet the world’s biggest plane-maker, after reclaiming the cherished title of being the top dog in the aircraft manufacturing business from its transatlantic arch-rival Toulouse, France-based Airbus, shall not be shaken by the recent 787 woes as its future widebody strategy and the centrepieces of it – the 777X and 787-10X are at stake. While the Chicago-based plane-maker will supposedly emerge from a position of strength with the most fuel efficient mid-sized long-range aircraft in which each 787 family member plays a unique role and that the 777X will be in a new market segment where it is in a class of its own, any delay in their introduction timings threatening to erode a major part of their strategic advantages must be prevented.

Image Courtesy of the Associated Press

787 battery woes
On January 7, the lithium-ion battery supplied by Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa onboard the aft electrical/equipment bay (E/E) of a parked Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Boston Logan International Airport overheated and suffered from a thermal runaway, resulting in “severe fire damage” to the surrounding area of the container box. This was only to be followed by a fuel leak by another JAL Boeing 787 at the same airport a day later, which leaked around 40 gallons (151.4 litres) of jet fuel onto the taxiway at the airport and was later traced to a “problem” causing a valve to open and allowing fuel to flow from the centre fuel tank to the left main fuel tank. The fuel subsequently leaked through a vent after fully filling up the left main fuel tank and spilling over into the surge tank.

On 9 January, Asia’s largest carrier by sales and Boeing 787 launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) cancelled a domestic flight owing to a computer brake control software glitch and on 11 January the airline replaced a cracked cockpit window. While this spate of incidents are independent of each other and are believed to be attributable to different causes, they have drawn the close scrutiny of the media and prompted a special wide-ranging US FAA review over the 787’s design, manufacture and assembly.

“This review will help us look at the root causes and do everything we can to safeguard against similar events in the future. I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight,” US transportation secretary Ray Lahood declared.

“We are confident about the safety of this aircraft, but we’re concerned about these incidents and we will conduct the review until we’re completely satisfied,” Michael Huerta, administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration, concurred.

Boeing also stood behind its flagship product, with 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett defending the adoption of the lithium-ion battery which operated 1.3 million flight hours without an incident and that it is still the right choice for the aircraft since it can be quickly recharged from 0% to 90% within 75 minutes and saying that the 787’s dispatch reliability is in the high 90s and on par with the entry into service (EIS) performance record on the 777 mini-jumbo jet.

“I am 100% convinced that the airplane is safe to fly,” Sinnett commented.

Other Boeing officials followed suit, with Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner saying “the redundancies that we have put into this machine are phenomenal and the airplane performed perfectly in that respect. Now, we’d like to make sure that none of these happen again, and that’s what we’re going to try to do” and Boeing president, chairman and chief executive Jim McNerney saying the company stands 100% behind the integrity of the 787.

Ironically, it is now clear that those redundancy systems have failed and put the aircraft programme in jeopardy. On 16 January, a All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight NH692 onboard a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner carrying the registration JA804A was 18 minutes into the 65-minute flight from Yamaguchi in western Japan to Tokyo Haneda airport when a battery alert and a strong burning smell at 08:26 at 32,000 feet (ft) prompted the flight crew to make an emergency landing in Takamatsu airport. The lithium-ion battery in the forward electrical/equipment (E/E) bay was found to be decoloured, deformed and leaked hot electrolytes.

In response to an in-flight fire risk, the US FAA released an emergency airworthiness directive (EAD) on the same day grounding the US-based 787 fleet where United Airlines operates 6 examples and imposing a pre-requisite to the resumption of commercial flights by the aircraft that “Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe”. US transportation secretary Ray Lahood said “last week it was safe” when questioned by reporters over his prior comment that the 787 is safe to fly and that the 787 will not be allowed to conduct commercial flights again unless safety regulators are “1,000% sure” it is safe.

The grounding of the entire 787 fleet in the United States, which was quickly followed worldwide, is the first since the DC-10 grounding in 1976 and put the spotlight squarely on the GS Yuasa-built LVP 65-8 type lithium cobalt-oxide (LiCoO2) battery and integrated into the 787’s electrical system by French supplier Thales, which the United States National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said on 24 January that “the significance of these events cannot be understated. We do not expect to see fire events on board aircraft. This is a very serious air safety concern”.

The 28.5kg (63 lbs) lithium cobalt-oxide battery was originally chosen as it has a “100% greater energy storage capacity” and “offers two times of energy from the same dimension nickel-cadmium battery”, according to Thales. The French avionics supplier also boasts “the rugged prismatic sealed battery design is capable of withstanding extreme operating conditions far greater than those normally seen in commercial aircraft operation and requires absolutely no maintenance”. The 28cm (centimetre) wide, 21.5cm high and 33.5cm long battery contains 8 individual cells, each consisting of a graphite-coated copper anode and a cobalt oxide-coated aluminium cathode and delivering 3.7 nominal voltage for a combined 29.6V of electricity with a 32.2V limit. It has a storage capacity of 75Ah and an energy density of 110Wh/L.

So far, the US NTSB has already cleared the battery charger supplied by Securaplane Technologies, a unit of Meggitt Plc., as well as the battery monitoring unit built by Kanto Aircraft Instrument, ruled out overcharging and over-discharging and a series of macroscopic and microscopic inspections enabled the US investigative agency to nail down that “multiple short-circuits” within cell number 6 was the cause of a meltdown of a single cell which spread onto other cells and the “initiating event” of the subsequent thermal runaway, albeit the root cause as to what caused the multiple short-circuits remain under investigation, US NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in a 7 February update.

Though the risks carried by lithium cobalt-oxide battery have been known, as the lithium-ion battery powering the revolutionary aircraft’s main and auxiliary power unit (APU), flight control, emergency lighting system and recorder independent power, the first aircraft to do so since the Airbus A380’s lithium-ion battery only powers the superjumbo’s emergency lighting system, was certified in 2007 with a string of “special conditions” attached.

“In general, lithium ion batteries are significantly more susceptible to internal failures that can result in self-sustaining increases in temperature and pressure (thermal runaway) than their nickel-cadmium or lead-acid counterparts. This is especially true for overcharging, which causes heating and destabilisation of the components of the cell, leading to formation (by plating) of highly unstable metallic lithium. The metallic lithium can ignite, resulting in a self-sustaining fire or explosion. Finally, the severity of thermal runaway from overcharging increases with increasing battery capacity, because of the higher amount of electrolytes in large batteries,” the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cautioned in a October 2007 Federal Register filing.

“Unlike nickel-cadmium and lead-acid batteries, some types of lithium ion batteries use liquid electrolytes that are flammable. The electrolytes can serve as a source of fuel for an external fire, if there is a breach of the battery container,” the FAA warned.

Hersman said that Boeing estimated there would be less than 1 smoke event in 10 million flight hours, yet the 787 has had 2 battery fire events within a short timeframe in less than 100,000 flight hours at 50,000 flight hours.

Notwithstanding this and the several months it takes to develop an improved interim fix, Boeing is unlikely to change its lithium-ion battery design, not least since its electric system is designed around it, of which Seattle Times reported at least 100 batteries failed and The New York Times reported that All Nippon Airways (ANA) swapped and replaced the battery in 10 occasions with 5 of them owing to “unexpectedly low level of charge” which automatically lock itself up once its charge level dips below 15%, as replacing it with a conventional but less volatile nickel-cadmium battery design is expected to be a very costly fix in order to make it compatible with the 787’s existing electrical architecture and carry a weight and space penalty.

“Batteries are replaced on our airplanes every day, every type of battery including these batteries. The replacement cycle that we’ve been experiencing there has been for maintenance reasons, there’s been no incident that we are aware of where our batteries have been replaced due to any kind of safety concerns,” Boeing chairman and chief executive Jim McNerney said at the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

“Nothing we’ve learned has told us that we’ve yet – that it has told us that we have made the wrong choice on the battery technology. We feel good about the battery technology and it’s fit for the airplane. We’ve just got to get to the root cause of these incidents and we’ll take a look at the data as it unfolds,” McNerney exerted.

Now that the 787 has resumed flight tests following the US Federal Aviation Administration’s approval with conditions such as pre-flight inspections on the battery and cable over any potential damage and continuous monitoring of the battery throughout the flight, the top priority remains developing an interim fix that entails a better protection case containing a possible battery fire and gas venting system designed to redirect any gas generated by the fire, greater separation between individual cells to minimise the risk of spreading a thermal runaway and possibly an extinguishing system.

At press time, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is looking into the possible presence of “dendrites” or tiny deposits of fibre after an uneven charging, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Image Courtesy of US National Transportation Safety Board

787-10X launch hinges on -9 progress
Despite the ongoing probe into the battery fire, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner nonetheless has a sound business case on which airlines’ future depend and around which their business models are built to serve previously economically unfeasible long-haul thin routes, especially tapping into the secondary Chinese cities which are fast-growing as discretionary income of an expanding middle class continues to soar. This is highlighted by the crucial backings given by key 787 customers albeit informing Norwegian Air Shuttle that its first and second 787s on lease from the International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), scheduled to be delivered in April and June, respectively; Thompson Airways’ first example originally scheduled to be handed at end-February that their deliveries are or are at risk of being delayed and the ¥700 million and ¥1.4 billion financial hits suffered by Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), respectively.

“We have informed our customers expecting 787 deliveries in the near-term that those aircraft either have been or are at risk of being delayed. Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the schedules of our customers and their passengers,” Boeing said in a statement.

“I’m confident that will be a good airplane. Boeing and the operators will work through the issues. We’re steadfast in our support of the 787,” AMR Corporation chief executive Tom Horton said in a Bloomberg interview. The US’s third-biggest airline has finalised its order for 20 787-8s and 22 787-9s last week.

“787 is a great aircraft, we have no doubt it will be resolved and the aircraft will be up and fine,” Etihad Airways chief executive James Hogan was quoted as saying.

“There are some changes to the systems that I know they are going to introduce, but I can’t disclose too much of it because I have been given information on a confidential basis. They will have to do some redesign of the battery system and I would expect it to take a couple of months, but I don’t have any detailed information to understand when they will address that. We remain committed to the orders that we’ve placed with Boeing,” Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent International Airlines Group (IAG) which has orders for 8 787-8s and 16 787-9s, commented.

Regardless of the battery woes, the 787 Dreamliner is expected to weigh on the bottom line of Boeing in the foreseeable future, with 787 gross inventory increased by US$700 million in the fourth-quarter of 2012 to US$25.5 billion, of which the deferred production cost soared by US$1.65 billion to US$15.9 billion representing 46 work-in-process (WIP) planes.

“Deferred production increased by ~$1.65B over 17 787s produced in Q4 period, equating to ~$97.3M per aircraft. While the pace of improvement clearly slowed in the fourth quarter (after dropping by ~$18M from $117.6M in Q2 to $99.2M in Q3) we believe this is attributable to the introduction of the -9 into the production mix. We believe this will continue to distort the cash unit cost analysis for the next year or so. However, we do believe that cash cost is clearly declining for the 787-8, although there is not clean way to isolate that improvement given the data provided,” Credit Suisse said in a 30 January note to its clients.

The balance of deferred production cost will continue to soar as the ramp-up in 787 production continues unaffected by the battery woes to 7 units per month by the middle of the year, until topping US$20 billion and starting to decline after successfully achieving a 10 units per month production rate.

“Even assuming a relatively quick solution to battery issue, we still see 787 as a worse cash drag in 2013. We estimate 787 is a ~$6B cash drag in 2013 with ~$7B inventory build more than offsetting ~$1B advance draw assuming Boeing learns like it did on 777. Our forecast is worse compared to Boeing’s outlook for a similar 787 inventory build in 2013 as in 2012 ($5.7B) while extended 787 grounding would result in an even bigger cash burn,” fellow Swiss investment bank UBS said in a 6 February research note.

The company is phasing in the 787-9, a 6.09m (20ft) stretch over the -8, into its production system and is incorporating additional flow time in components all at a while when the Chicago-based airframer will deliver over 60 787-8s this year, 15% of which, or 9 examples, will be reworked examples delivered from the Everett Modification Centre (EMC).

While the 787-9 is showing great progress, with the engineering and design phase nearing an end and early stage assembly currently underway ahead of the final stage final assembly in mid-2013, in addition to the successful efforts of weight-reduction initiatives such as Spirit AeroSystems’ one-piece cockpit window frame that will eliminate 200 fasteners and reduce the structure’s weight by 100lbs and the elimination of side-of-body modification which saves 363kg (800lbs) in weight, that will bring the first 787-9 example, ZB001 or LN126, in line with the manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) specification and later batches 2% underweight, meeting the early-2014 entry into service (EIS) target is becoming “challenging”, people familiar with the matter have said.

For instance, the time window between the start of final assembly and the beginning of flight tests has narrowed to 4 months, according to Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer.

A330-200

A330-300

A350-900

A350-1000

777-200ER

777-300ER

777-8X

777-9X

787-9

787-10X

3-class pax no.

253

295

314

350

301

365

353

407

280

323

Range (nm)

7,500

6,400

8,100

8,400

7,725

7,825

8,000

8,000

8,020

6,800-7,000

MTOW (kg)

242,000

242,000

268,000

308,000

297,550

351,530

315,000

344,000

250,800

250,800

MLW (kg)

182,000

187,000

205,000

233,000

213,180

251,290

n/a

n/a

192,777

201,800

MZFW (kg)

170,000

175,000

192,000

220,000

200,480 (GE)

199,580 (P&W, RR)

237,683

n/a

n/a

181,437

192,800

Overall length (m)

58.82

63.69

66.89

73.88

63.7

73.9

69.55

76.48

62.8

68.28

Wingspan (m)

60.3

60.3

64.75

64.75

60.9

64.8

71.1

71.1

60.1

60.1

Diameter (m)

5.64

5.64

5.96

5.96

6.19

6.19

6.19

6.19

5.77

5.77

Cabin Width (m)

5.28

5.28

5.61

5.61

5.86

5.86

n/a

n/a

5.49

5.49

Engines

General Electric CF6-80E1

Pratt & Whitney PW4000

Rolls-Royce Trent 700

General Electric CF6-80E1

Pratt & Whitney PW4000

Rolls-Royce Trent 700

Rolls-Royce Trent XWB

Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97

Pratt & Whitney PW4090

Rolls-Royce Trent 895

General Electric 90-94B

General Electric GE90-115B

General Electric GE9X

General Electric GE9X

Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Package C

General Electric GEnx-1B PIP2

Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN

General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2

Thrust (lbs)

70,000 (PW)

71,100 (RR)

72,000 (GE)

70,000 (PW)

71,100 (RR)

72,000 (GE)

84,000

97,000

90,000 (PW4090)

93,400 (RR)

93,700 (GE)

115,300

88,000

99,500

74,000

76,000 (RR)

75,000 (GE)

Sources: Airbus, Boeing, Aspire Aviation estimates

This may have implications on the launch of its larger sibling, the 323-seat 787-10X, since its launch is directly tied to the progress achieved on the -9 programme, the same people say.

So far the “Gate 4″ formal launch remains unaffected by the battery woes and is still scheduled to take place in June 2013. Even with a delay in the launch of the aircraft, it is difficult to see the timeline of the 787-10X programme – firm configuration in the second half of 2014, roll-out in first half 2017 and an entry into service (EIS) in 2018 to 2019, to be affected.

Nevertheless bringing the 787-10X, a simple 5.49m (18ft) stretch of the 280-seat Boeing 787-9 with a 5-frame and 4-frame stretch in the forward and aft fuselage, respectively whose ground work has already been laid with the -9 stretch, into service as early as possible is paramount to maximising the strategic advantage the 787-10X holds over the A330 and as a 777-200ER replacement.

Make no mistake, the 253-seat A330-200 and 295-seat A330-300 remain airlines’ best choice and most efficient medium to long-haul aircraft, especially when the 7,725nm (nautical miles) range of the 777-200ER (extended range) is not needed.

Now that Airbus has further improved its A330 offering by launching the 242-tonne maximum take-off weight (MTOW) options to be available from mid-2015 onwards, which features an activation of the A330-300’s existing locked-out centre fuel tank and boosts the A330-300’s range by 500nm over today’s 235-tonne variant to 6,400nm and the -200’s range by 500nm over today’s 238-tonne variant to 7,500nm, the A330-200 has virtually closed all of its gap with the 777-200ER in terms of range without the heavier airframe over the -200ER’s 12% more seating area.

Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy claimed the 240-tonne A330-300 is able to cover 94% of all 777-200ER missions and enables airlines to deploy the aircraft on Europe-Southeast Asia routes.

“If you don’t need the full range you can be competitive on many routes with an A330,” Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier said.

By the same token, the page borrowed from Airbus also holds true for the 787-10X and that it is destined to be a very compelling aircraft for airlines that do not require the additional range provided by the A350-900 nor the 777-8X, and particularly so as Airbus shrugs off a re-engining of the A330 despite AirAsia’s call for it.

“If you say ‘re-engined’, then I’d say ‘no’. [You] don’t put one of these heavy engines on it,” Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy was quoted as saying by flightglobal.

A key rationale to keep the 787-10X launch plan intact despite the battery woes, Aspire Aviation understands, is that Boeing believes it will be able to undermine A350-900 sales as the -10X has a 10% lower cash operating cost (COC) than the larger A350-900, along with a 4% lower relative trip cost and a 8% lower relative seat-mile cost on a 6,000nm mission, in addition to a 5% lower COC than the 350-seat A350-1000.

The 6,800nm-7,000nm range of the 787-10X enables the double-stretch variant to fly 88% and 86% of all the missions of the proposed 777-8X and the A350-900, whose ranges are 8,000nm and 8,100nm, respectively.

In comparison, the 787-10X would be able to fly 93% of all 242-tonne A330-200 missions and the 787-10X’s payload/range capability may yet be improved as its 119.7 tonnes (264,000lbs) manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) is “disproportionately larger than an increase required under a simple stretch” and may be indicative of a potential increase in maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 250.8t (553,000lbs).

This enables airlines such as International Airlines Group’s (IAG) British Airways (BA) to fly transatlantic routes comfortably, of which the oneworld member is mulling an order for 60 of the aircraft to replace its venerable 54-unit strong Boeing 777-200ER fleet. South American routes from London Heathrow such as the 5,965nm long Buenos Aires (EZE), 5,065nm long Sao Paulo (GRU) and 4,954nm long Rio de Janiero (GIG) and North American routes from Heathrow such as the 4,080nm, 4,713nm and 4,637nm long routes to Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, could all be operated by the 787-10X comfortably, in addition to London-Tokyo Haneda at 5,161nm long (“Launch of Boeing 787-10X has implications on 777X programme“, 22nd Oct, 12).

Being uniquely positioned between the A330-200 and -300, the 787-10X will not only be able to fly 9% longer range with a 7,000nm capability while carrying 9% more passengers and considerably more payload than the A330-300, it also allows the aircraft to cater to the large A330-200 and -300 replacement market in one fell swoop as the worldwide A330 fleet ages.

For example, the world’s largest A330-300 customer Cathay Pacific with 35 examples in its fleet and another 17 in the fleet of its wholly-owned subsidiary Dragonair, is going to receive 5 new-built A330-300s this year, 4 of which will be dedicated to replacing the four -300s being returned to lessors while the remaining 1 will be for Dragonair’s expansion in the Greater China region. The airline has 15 examples on order.

The worldwide A330 backlog consists of 574 orders for the -200 variant and 618 for the -300 variant as of the end of January, with numerous large customers eventually requiring A330 replacement beginning later this decade, such as Air China operating 25 A330-200s and 9 -300s with another 5 and 4 yet to be delivered; China Eastern Airlines (CEA) is operating 14 A330-200s and 15 -300s with 7 -200s yet to be delivered; US’s Delta Air Lines has 21 A330-300s and 11 -200s in its fleet; Thai Airways’ 26 A330-300s in its fleet with another one yet to be delivered and Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) 19 A330-300s with another 15 on order – just to name a few. Aircraft lessor International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), meanwhile, has ordered a total of 68 A330-200s and 30 -300s.

Aspire Aviation firstly reported that Singapore Airlines (SIA), its Scoot subsidiary and British Airways (BA) are the frontrunners for being 787-10X’s launch customers, whereas other potential customers reportedly include ILFC, Steven Udvar-Hazy’s Air Lease Corporation, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways.

Another point in bringing the service entry of the 787-10X as early as possible is to blunt the sales of the A330 in providing interim lift as a result of perennial 787 and possibly more A350 delays.

“Clearly the fact that the new generation comes late and has teething problems at the beginning means we’ll have more success with this aircraft [A330],” Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier declared in a Bloomberg interview.

Yet the A330 will see downward pressure on pricing and face a considerable amount of competitive pressure as soon as the 787-10X is on sale after “Gate 4″ in June 2013, as the 787-10X will burn 25% less fuel than an A330-300 of which heavy discounting on the A330 may not be able to make up for the economics as fuel accounts for as high as 40% of cash operating cost (COC) and jet fuel prices remain stubbornly high.

Furthermore, the 787-10X will feature improved engine technology such as Rolls-Royce’s Trent 1000-TEN which will shave 3% off the Package B standard specific engine consumption (SFC) and the General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2, the former of which will bring the engine meeting its original SFC target after Package A missed its SFC by 4.3% and Package B by 3%, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Boeing previously said. The GEnx-1B PIP 2 will cut around 1% of SFC off the PIP 1 standard, which has already reduced its SFC by 1.7% from the original around 3% SFC miss.

“Progress on our widebody development efforts continues along the disciplined gated process we put in place based on lessons learned from the 787 and other past programmes. More specifically, the case with the 787-10 airplane has strengthened based on our recent discussions with customers in anticipation of a potential launch this year,” Boeing chairman, president and chief executive Jim McNerney commented.

“We’ve been conditionally offering the airplane in the marketplace and the response has been very strong. So, that is less of a technical challenge in the sense of – it’s not as much technical scope to that airplane. So, our confidence is growing daily that that airplane is going to be a winner at a price and value equation that makes sense for both Boeing and their customers. So, I don’t want to pre-judge when we might reach a final launch decision, but good progress toward that, very good progress toward that,” McNerney said.

On the potential spill-over ramifications resulting from the 787 battery woes, McNerney reassured that “this is a highly compartmentalised issue. We have a deep supply chain with expertise and we have deep expertise within Boeing. I mean we are bringing people from all around Boeing to help look at this and because of the specialised nature of the technology and of the investigation, it’s not drawing from any critical resources on any other growth programmes we’ve got”.

Simply put, the sooner Boeing is able to bring the 787-10X’s service entry, the better, with minimal technical risk and capital requirement, yet a lucrative return on investment (ROI).

Image Courtesy of Boeing

Folding wingtip for 777X decided, in a class of its own
In the meantime, the Airbus A350, aimed at challenging both the 787 and 777 at the same time, appears not immune to the lithium-ion battery issue despite Airbus’ insistence that the A350 lithium-ion battery is built by a different French supplier Saft and features better protection measures such as a protection case and gas and heat venting system that will direct any heated gas overboard, in addition to spreading the electric load on two lithium-ion batteries instead of one.

“We studied the integration of these batteries on the A350 very carefully. I am very relaxed about this. We identified this fragility at the start of development and we think we resolved it about a year ago. Nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel. We have a robust design. If this design has to evolve, we have the time to do that. If it has to change in a more drastic way because the authorities reach the conclusion that the technology is not mature, then we have all the time we need to do this on the A350 before first delivery in the second half of 2014,” Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier said after previously warning of the potential risks in a presentation as Reuters reported.

Though the European plane-maker seems to be shifting gear as a proactive measure to mitigate risks on the A350 programme, especially after running out of its razor-thin margins in its development schedule. Both Reuters and Bloomberg have reported that Airbus is evaluating whether to replace the A350’s lithium-ion battery with traditional nickel-cadmium one in order to pre-emptively prevent a worse delay even though one of a few months is inevitable owing to the battery change.

This is in spite of the A350’s recent solid progresses, including the certification of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) on 7th February after more than 3,100 flight test hours in a certification effort that began in 2010 and involved 11 test engines, as well as the endorsement of the 350-seat A350-1000 jet from Qatar Airways and Air Lease Corporation (ALC).

Across the Atlantic, Boeing is edging closer to an authority to offer (ATO) later this year and is making progress, albeit slowly, on the revamped 777X aircraft.

The airframer has recently decided to offer the folding wingtip on the 777X, according to Aspire Aviation‘s sources familiar with the matter.

Unlike the folding wingtip being studied for the original 777-200 in 1995 that included the aircraft’s slats and ailerons, the 777X’s folding wingtip is only going to include the outermost 11ft (3.35m) of the wings with no moveable parts. In order to quell concerns about the complexity of the folding mechanism and the implications on maintenance costs, Boeing has adopted a folding wing which is a “major scaled-up” version of the carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) replacement wings for the Northrop Grumman A-6E Intruder fighter jet in the 1980s.

Likewise, the 777X folding wingtip will be operated electrically, with two hinges located where the front and rear wing spars meet the top wing cover and locking pins where the spars meet the lower wing cover, of which the spins are operated electromagnetically.

The 777X folding wingtip is “so simple” and “easy to maintain and operate”, such that the weight penalty of such mechanisms is minimised at 800lbs (362.8kg), compared to the 777-200 folding wingtip’s 3,200lbs (1.45 tonnes).

In case the folding wingtip fails in mid-flight, Boeing will certify the 777X with the wingtip in the “folded-up” position and losing a 11 feet folding wingtip in the worse case scenario will be compensated by deflection of spoilers and ailerons “easily”, the sources say.

Having a folding wingtip is crucial to maintaining the 777X’s airport compatibility. On the aprons and taxiways, the 777X will remain an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) airport category Code E aircraft with exactly the same wingspan as today’s 777-300ER at 64.8m (212.7ft), while being a Code F aircraft with the wingtip folded down on the runway and in the air, which extends the 777-8X and 777-9X’s wingspans by 11ft to 71.1m (233.4ft) (“Boeing chooses largest wingspan for 777X“, 26th Jul, 12).

The folding wingtip, combined with the 30m² (322.9ft²) wing area added to the 777-300ER’s one of 436.8m², will make the 787-styled supercritical “4th-generation” carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) wings having a 12% better lift-to-drag (L/D) ratio than its predecessor’s wings.

This 71.1m long 777X wing will be largest wing Boeing has ever built, which dwarfed the 747-8′s 68.5m (224.7ft) wingspan and is second only to the Airbus A380’s wings at 79.75m (261.1ft). In comparison, the 777-300ER/-200LR has a wingspan of 64.8m (212.7ft), the 777-200/-200ER/-300 a 60.9m (199.11ft) one and the 787-8/-9/-10X’s 60.1m (197.3ft) one.

“The confidence that we’ve got that this will be the third depending by the count a third or fourth generation composite airfoil we’ve built. So our confidence is growing that we know what we’re doing with the composite wing and this will be one heck of a composite wing, you’re right it’s at a scale that’s different than we’ve done before, so it’s not without challenges,” Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney commented.

Whereas the A350-1000 will be the most fuel efficient 350-seat aircraft in the future, the 407-seat 777-9X will be in a class of its own, delivering unrivalled seat-mile costs while transporting heavy payloads of which its revenue cargo volume is going to be further boosted by its 76.48m (250.9ft) length, a 2.58m stretch over today’s -300ER with a 21% lower block fuel burn per seat and a 16% lower cash operating cost (COC) per seat.

The 777-9X will be appealing to airlines seeking a growth aircraft without compromising flight frequency and cargo-carrying capability as the A380 does or a one-to-one “apple-to-apple” 747-400 replacement such as Dubai-based Emirates, which has expressed strong interest in flying the aircraft with a 50 tonnes payload directly from Dubai to Los Angeles or British Airways which still has 57 fuel-guzzling 747-400s in its fleet which will only be partly replaced by its order for 12 Airbus A380s, or Cathay Pacific, which based its business model on frequency with 5 daily flights to London and 70% of all its cargoes are carried by passenger underbelly space.

On the other hand, Boeing has not yet chosen whether to opt for a single-source or dual-source strategy for its engines, a decision originally due at the end of December (“Boeing in no rush to fast-track future widebody strategy“, 27th Nov, 12). General Electric is competing for an extension of its existing exclusivity contract on the long-range 777 with the GE9X which burns 10% less fuel, whereas Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) are competing with the RB3025 and a 100,000lbs geared turbofan (GTF) designs, respectively.

But these will not come cheaply and early. In light of the 787 fiasco, Boeing has earned a black eye from the Wall Street, airlines and suppliers alike and executing the KC-46A aerial refuelling tanker which risks a US$700 million cost overrun, the late-2017 entry into service (EIS) of the re-engined 737 MAX and the 787-10X, will be challenging for a company that has been “over-promising” and “under-delivering” for quite some time and still is today.

Worse yet, the 777-9X’s service entry is not going to occur until mid-2019, after a 9-month flight testing finishing in the third-quarter of 2018 and a fourth-quarter 2017 roll-out, Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at Boeing said. Should this be further delayed, the 350-seat Airbus A350-1000 whose service entry is in 2017 and delayed by 2 years itself, threatens to establish its customer base despite the sluggishness in its sales so far which has only clawed up 110 orders.

“The -1000 will be a fantastic aircraft. We were right to change the engine, right to [make the improvements]. It [777X]’s a non-aircraft. When they come up with firm orders, we’ll talk about it. The 777 is dead, one-to-one, against the A350-1000,” Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier told flightglobal.

For the time being, Boeing could continue to produce and sell a large amount of 777-300ERs after achieving a production rate of 8.3 per month and command a premium for its efficiency. But later on, it is a prerequisite for Boeing to launch the 777-300ER+ upgrade packages which feature a recontoured belly fairing, more weight reductions and a continuously improved GE90-115B engine that will shave 4-5% of block fuel burn of the aircraft, to maintain its competitiveness and bridge the transition to the 777-9X smoothly for the gap period between 2017 and 2019.

“We have not changed our schedule. We’re focused on these airplanes coming to the market late in the decade,” Boeing vice-president (VP) of marketing Randy Tinseth said yesterday at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) conference.

Last but not least, the 787-10X, coupled with the 777-8X, are meant to not only become the medium-to-long-haul mainstay of airlines, but also ones to encircle the A350-900 with the former undercutting the shorter-end segment of the A350-900 and the latter competing on the longer-end segment, as well as the 777-9X virtually creating a new market segment for carrying a large amount of payload over 8,000nm with an unparalleled seat-mile economics that will redefine “airplane economics”. Yet with its less-than-glamorous execution history, it would be prudent in Aspire Aviation‘s opinion to cancel the -8X project, concentrating engineering and capital resources on the more popular 777-9X and move on to an ultra long-range 777-8LX with a 9,480nm range and a 14%-16% less fuel burn than the -300ER in early 2020s.

No wonder Pat Shanahan, senior vice president and general manager, airplane programmes at Boeing Commercial Airplanes said in a CNBC interview back then in 2011 that the 787 was “a hell of a ride” and a “rodeo”. It still is today.

Airbus A350-1000 Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-94

Updated the 787-10X’s range to 6,800nm-7,000nm following presentation made by Boeing vice president (VP) of marketing Randy Tinseth at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) conference

17 Comments

  • keesje 2013 Feb 14 / 17:03

    Boeing warned they may have to slow down 747-8 production next yr if there are no further orders. Together with a launch of the 777-9i the situation for the 747-8i might become critical.

    Looking at payload range diagrams of the 777, the cargo potential of the 777 on long Pacific flights might remain limitted. The space is there, but almost all (single engine >V1 lift off) capability is required to carry the passengers and fuel.

  • aeroturbopower 2013 Feb 14 / 17:09

    Daniel,
    PW made it clear meanwhile that they moved out of the competition to power the B777-X:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323539804578259571050384356.html

    Mr. Chenevert said his Pratt & Whitney unit had decided to focus the new geared turbofan jet engine on regional and smaller jets and had decided not to try to win a place on Boeing Inc.’s new 777x widebody airplane. Mr. Chenevert said the company made the decision that it “would not be prudent to take on yet another program.”

    Also, I can’t see GE investing money to shave 3% SFC to shave 5% off the B777-300ER fuelburn (with maybe 1% coming from the belly fairing and another frm aircraft weight savings) off the GE90-115B with at the same time ramping up development for the GE-9X. Either the package was launched some years ago and would enter service soon – but to start an upgrade package for the engine now to put it inservice in maybe two years would not make a sound business case, I guess.
    Otherwise, thanks for the hard work on the story!

    aeroturbopower

  • aeroturbopower 2013 Feb 14 / 17:11

    Sorry, I misplaced the quote command…Daniel, could you correct, please?
    Thanks!

    • Daniel Tsang 2013 Feb 14 / 17:22

      Hi aeroturbopower,

      Quote command is fixed. Thanks for your comment!

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  • Eric Sees 2013 Feb 15 / 12:51

    @ keesje,

    WRT the 777X, which is it? A -8I killer OR a poor design which cannot carry cargo and a full load of passengers across the Pacific. I don’t think it can be both. Do you?

  • keesje 2013 Feb 15 / 16:22

    Eric, I refer to the large cargo volume capability boosted for the bigger 777 over the Pacific. It is there but the aircraft are only capable to carry so much. E.g. a A380 van carry much more cargo next to 525 passenger then a 773 next to 350 passengers. And it has little do to with available cargo volume.

    On the 777-8i and 9i I’m waiting for details. They are longer, have bigger wings and have less powerfull engines, a different equation.

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  • Muhammad Kaloo 2013 Feb 17 / 23:30

    Hi guys! Great article…again! The 787 issues are really bad for Boeing but I believe they will climb out of the – shallow – ditch they are in and will be stronger because of it. One thing I hope they will take from the greater 787 and 747-8I issue is to go “clean sheet” for a 777 replacement. This, beautiful, but still 20 year old (by early 2020’s) warmed-over 777X will not be enough to take on the relatively newer A350-1000. Also, there is the (almost inevitable) risk of running grossly over budget. It is not as if this has not happened before. The excess that will be spent in that event could have been used, in the first place, to develop a stronger opponent to the A350. As has been mentioned numerous times before, it seems that Boeing has shifted from being an innovator to a more reactionary role in the industry. Proof of this can be seen with B737 MAX (vs A320neo), B747-8I (vs A380), B787-10X (vs A330-300) and B777X (vs A350, specifically A350-1000). When the 787 first broke cover I was really young. Looking back on it, I see it as Boeing giving most in the aviation world exactly what they wanted. From then on out it just became Boeing reacting to what the competition was doing. Giving the world a less well thought out product then what they were being offered by their (Boeing’s) rival from across the Atlantic. Don’t get me wrong – I love Boeing and Airbus equally and wish that the A330 and B77L/B77W could be sold forever! I do not intend any bashing! This is just my 2 cents. Not worth much but hopefully worth something.

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