The next year

The next year is ahead of us and after 2010 ended on a high note with the launch of the A320NEO, 2011 can be expected to be once again a very interesting year for aviation.
With oil prices again rising towards $100 a barrel, one could expect orders to be shifted to aircraft with lower fuelburn, especially the Bombardier CSeries and the A320NEO. Maybe the first orders for the -NEO will be announced in January, as Scott Hamilton predicts.
Maybe we see some orders for the CSeries complete until the end of January, when the financial year of Bombardier ends.
If there is indeed a flush of orders for those aircraft, we should hear something out of Seattle (aka Chicago) regarding the future of the B737 soon. Southwest seems to prefer a reengining as they do not believe that Boeing will be able to pull out a successor around 2020.
Embraer is also about to decide what to do with their EJets and whether they should develop an aircraft that is larger and can compete with the CS300 (at least).

My personal winner of the last two years, regardless of a lack of big orders, is the CSeries:
1. The CS100 and the CS300 will be the most efficient aircraft in their categories.
2. The A319NEO cannot really compete with the CS300 and is only of interest for airlines that operate the whole A320 today.
3. A reengined B737-700 could not compete with the CS300 as well.
4. If Embraer decides to develop a larger aircraft to compete with the CS300, it will be years out.
5. The successor families of the A320n and the B737 will probably start at today's A320 and B737-800 size - there won't be equivalents to the A319 and the B737-700 in my view.

Have a nice 2011!


Is the NEO a threat for the CSeries?

AirInsight published a very detailed report about the CSeries this week. The main question to be answered was, if, after Airbus announced the A320NEO, there would be still a business case for the Bombardier CSeries. Not to my surprise (because of own studies), the answer was: Yes!
The only really big threat for the CSeries, according to the report, would be pricing-power from Airbus and Boeing, which could choose to give away A319NEO and 737-700W (or maybe also a 737-700NEO???) with losses just to protect their market.
There is an additional short piece at AirInsight detailing that threat here.
So how deep has a discount to be to be attractive?
Let's start with the price of the aircraft: let's start with the 41% that Airbus has to give according to the AirInsight article to match a 25% discount by Bombardier.
The AirInsight report comes to the conclusion that for a 500nm mission the CS300 will be $716 lower in costs and $444 lower than a A319NEO. I do not fully agree with the number of seats the report puts down for the various aircraft, so I will not discuss the differences in seat-costs here. Just assume a given flight with a given number of passengers (at or below the maximum of the smallest of the three aircraft), no matter what aircraft you fly.
For an airline, to get a better deal over the full life of the aircraft one should not only take into account the purchase price of the aircraft but the overall costs including operation and maintenance of the aircraft.
Assume there a seven flights per day on 320 days per year (allowing for maintenance) for 10 years - that makes 22,400 flights.
So the difference in operating costs between a CS300 and a 737-700W for these 10 years would be about $16 million, about $9.5 million against the A319NEO.
A big portion of the difference in operating costs is fuel burn - and if the price of fuel goes up ($2.25/gallon was assumed in the study), the operating cost difference goes up as well.
So there would be another big discount  needed to make up for those difference in operating costs. If Airbus and Boeing are willing to make these discounts remains to be seen, but I doubt it - although Airbus once made such discounts for the A340-600 to sell it against the B777-300ER.


NEO is out!

The time of the "unknown unknowns" is over! Airbus just this morning officially announced that starting in Spring 2016 the new "NEO" version of the A320 family can be delivered to the customers. Airlines (and others who can afford) then have the choice between four engines with the CFM LEAP-X and the PW1100G being the new choices - I guess this is a "first time" in aviation history; although not a really important one, as my guess would be that there will be only a few who will opt for the old engines (CFM56 and V2500).
Airbus claims that the NEO versions, which will also feature the sharklets, will have a 15% advantage in fuel burn versus today's aircraft. To explain, why it is only 15%, although CFM and PW both talk about a 15% SFC advantage for their engines (vs. CFM56 and V2500) and Airbus said that the sharklets lead to a fuel burn reduction up to 3.5%, we have to remember:
  • that the new engines will be heavier than the old ones,
  • will have a larger fan diameter, thus produce more drag
  • there will be additional weight in the wings and pylons to accommodate the heavier engines
These three points are taking something away from the 15% SFC (uninstalled) advantage +3.5% fuel burn advantage, leading to (approximately) 15% fuel burn reduction.

Now - as Airbus came forward today: what is the rest of the (aviation) world doing?

A320NEO - picture taken from the Airbus website


The most important question of course is, what the other "big one" will do:
My guess is that this is hinging on what the two most important customers for the B737, Southwest and Ryanair, will have to say.
In the last weeks both airlines talked up the reengining, saying that "doing" nothing" would be no option. A new 737 would of course be the solution they prefer, but Southwest was skeptical, that Boeing would be able to deliver a 737 successor in the 2020 timeframe.
And the 737 is not the only battlefield for Boeing. The 777 has to be (at least) updated and this should be done in the same timeframe as the A350-1000 comes to market - whenever this will be. Probably this will not happen exactly in 2015. If Airbus decides to please Emirates they might opt to alter the -1000 design to a -1100ER, meaning that the airplane gets larger and gets a little bit more range. But the thrust has to rise into the 100klbf range then, and I doubt that the core of the Trent XWB would not be capable of that. As suggested that would open the door for a GE90 variant - an article in Aviation Week suggested that it would just be a downrated version of today's GE90-115B, but the SFC would not meet the requirements, so there would be some technology infusion from GEnx required. But the same engine then could be used by Boeing for their 777 update/successor.
So the path regarding the 777 seems more obvious than that on the 737. At the last quarterly call Boeing kind of negated the possibility to do both programmes at the same time. The question is: what will be first:
  • If the 737 is first, Boeing's only choice would be to do a reengining - which would be more costly (if a significant fuel burn saving should be achieved) than for Airbus. A clean-sheet design would not be that much better than the A320NEO (as they would have to work with the same engine technology) to justify the $10billion+ investment.
  • If the 777 is first, they will probably loose some market share to Airbus in the narrowbody market for a couple of years.


As we all know, also Embraer is thinking, along other options, about reengining their EJet-Family. With Airbus launching the NEO this option becomes more likely. Bombardier eating into their market with the CS100, Sukhoi having a low cost option with the Superjet and Airbus with a A319NEO having an aircraft with probably not much higher trip costs but more seats than the E195 would make a reengining (maybe with the CSeries GTF?) a good option as I explained earlier.


Well, Bombardier was leasing the pack with the CSeries. Without the CSeries, there would not be -NEO launch today (or anytime soon). The A319NEO will eat into the CS300 cake. Question is if Bombardier can react to it and if yes: how?
Could they stretch the CS300 a little bit to reach in between the A319 and the A320. Could they launch a CS500 that would maybe come to market in 2016? And if yes, would they use the same engine (PW1524G) and the same wing, thus compromising range, but optimizing trip and seat costs for typically flown trips around 1000nm. Or can they even hang the same engine under the (strengthened) wing without enlarging the main landing gear?

Bottom line: the first "unknown unknowns" is away - but now there are many others out there...good for us bloggers!


The Chinese "Threat"

At the Zhuhai Airshow COMAC presented first customers for their C919, aimed to be a competitor to the A320 and B737 narrowbody families.
COMAC said that there are now “up to 100 orders” – a closer look shows that 50 of these orders are firm orders the rest are options.
The four big airlines in China – Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines – all ordered the C919. The first three all ordered “up to 20”, probably meaning that 10 for each airline are firm orders and 10 are options.
GECAS is another launch customer – for 5 firm orders and another 5 options. This is not a big surprise, as GECAS is also a customer for the much-delayed ARJ21-700 and GE delivers the engines for both aircraft (as part of the CFM consortium in the case of the C919).
The last launch customer is CDB (China Development Bank) – also not a big surprise, as CDB wants to play a big role in aircraft leasing in the future and signed MoU’s with all civil aircraft manufacturers recently. An anticipated order for the Bombardier CSeries is still in the pipeline and will most probably not being made public during the Zhuhai Airshow, as Scott Hamilton assumed recently.
So the C919 got their first customers – fine! But do we see a threat for Airbus and Boeing here? Not really for the next 10-15 years to come, I would say. Let’s have a look at the numbers for outstanding firm orders from the Chinese airlines that now ordered the C919.


Air China

China Eastern
China Southern




These are the numbers as in the Airbus O&D table from October 31, 2010.
We have to add the order the 50 A320 aircraft which was signed early November.
So the total is 181 open orders.


Air China


China Southern



Additionally, there are 46 open orders from other Chinese airlines for the B737 family for a total of 151 open orders.

This is a total of 332 open orders for Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies.

Let’s have a look at the actual aircraft and the (small set of) date given to the media by COMAC at the Airshow (Flightglobals headline was “Comac releases C919 specifications”, which was a little bit exaggerated) and compare it to the A320.

Cabin width

Efficiency is driven largely by two values: aircraft (empty) weight and engine SFC. Another important factor Is the wing efficiency, expressed in L/D (lift-to-drag ratio).
The thrust needed to power the aircraft in level flight is mass*(L/D).
From press releases it is known that the LEAP-X1C for the C919 is designed for a thrust of 30klbf. The 1.3m shorter A320 has a thrust rating of 27klbf, the engines on the 5.6m longer A321 produce 33klbf of thrust at takeoff.
Weight is not given by COMAC, but the span gives a good indication of the weight. Assumed that the aspect ratio of the C919 wing is not that different from a A320 or B737 wing, the wing area is at least the same as the wing of A320. Wing loading at takeoff (takeoff mass/wing area) is - together with the takeoff thrust – the driving factor for the takeoff length. The C919 is designed with hot-and-high airports in Western China in mind, so wing loading should not be far beyond the A320.
L/D could of course be a little bit better, as the A320 wing design is well over twenty years old.
Given all that we can preclude that the C919 won’t have a large weight advantage against the A320. The main driver for efficiency will be the engine. No doubt that the LEAP-X1C will be far better in SFC than the V2500 and the CFM56-5B on the A320. But what if Airbus does the –NEO? And what if the LEAP-X1C is not the “real” LEAP, as discussed here and elsewhere?
Conclusion: for me, the C919 is not a big deal for the next ten to fifteen years – at least technically. If China decides one day that chinese airlines have to buy nothing but Chinese, then it’s a different story – and confined to the Chinese market and close allies.
By then the Chinese aircraft market could very well cool down, as high speed rail eats into air travel wherever a rail line opens.

There is a good artice on the Aviation Week Website detailing the C919 orders. It's a little bit different than originally reported by Flight International...


EASA Directive for Trent 900

The EASA found an oil fire in the HP/IP turbine area to be the cause of the uncontained failure in the #2 Trent 900 engine of the Qantas A380 on Nov. 4. This is an outcome that was expected by experts. The AD dated November 10, 2010 can be found here.
But why does an oil fire lead the IP turbine disk to disintegrate? Let's talk about what (likely?, maybe?) happened in detail and step by step:
  1. The buffer cavity between the HP and the IP gets contaminated with oil. Why this happened is pure speculation at the moment. It could have been a bearing that leaked, it could have been oil lines that leaked or failed or something else...
  2. During the take-off and climb phase temperatures in the cavity are rising high enough to let the oil ignite.
  3. The IP shaft gets overheated and fails.
  4. The IPT disk, now running free without the IP compressor as a brake, accelerates in milliseconds as fuel is still pumped into the combustor. The bore of the disk is designed to withstand speeds that are up to, say, 40% higher than the speed at takeoff, whereas the airfoils are designed to fail earlier, at maybe 120% speed. But the oil fire also heated up the bore, decreasing the so called overspeed burst margin.
  5. The disk burst at a speed before the airfoils fail.
So what needs RR to do to prevent such a failure to happen again?

First of all, prevent the oil leakage. Without oil leakage no fire, no shaft shear, no disk burst.
Secondly, as you probably never can eliminate the possibility of an oil leak for 100% sure, a functionality has to be build into the engine that detects a shaft shear and shuts off the fuel immediately. Without the fuel being burned and the energy put into the turbine gas path, the disk will not accelerate.

Rolls Royce said that the Trent 900 and the Trent 1000 uncontained failures are unrelated. That might be true with respect to the causes of the two incidents. But I would like to hear what Rolls Royce changed in their design philolosophy between the Trent 900 and the Trent 1000 (and the Trent XWB) to prevent such an overspeed beyond burst limit speeds in case of a shaft shear as it appears that the outcome of the different causes was the same.
To clarify, the story I pictured is my view on what might happened. I can't assure that it was like I wrote. I hope to hear the "real" story tomorrow from RR.


Boeings Dreamliner under Fire

News came late yesterday that the second prototype of the B787, ZA002, landed with a cabin full of smoke in Laredo, Texas. The aircraft was en route to Harlingen, TX for trials of the nitrogen generation system. The fire broke out in the aft electronics equipment bay, the PFD and the auto throttle failed and the ram air turbine deplyed to provide enough electricity to handle th aircraft and to land it safely.
No one was injured, all test personell exited the aircraft via emergency slides.

The 787 saga of problems continues! All what can go wrong - goes wrong! Said someone "Murphy...?

What and if this latest part of the 787 saga means something really serious for the further flight test campaign and first deliveries of the aircraft remains to be seen.
In the best case there "just" was something like a short-circuit in the test equipment. Then the fire has nothing to do with the aircraft itself and the test fleet will be back in the air soon.
But it would be a lot worse if the fire has something to do with the electrical or electronical system of the aircraft.
  • If it is the electrical system and some kind of short-circuit, the problem would be to find to exact location and cause of the problem. Also it would have to be examined if the cause lies in the software that controls the electrics.
  • If it is the electronics itself where the fire started, it could either be a short-circuit on a circuit board or overheating of the electronics. How long then changes will take, is up in the air...and so long the aircraft won't....
In every case, the alarm bells in Rockford, Ill., where the Electrical Systems Division of Hamilton Sundstrand is located, are ringing!


Rolls Royce faces technical and legal battles

What a bad time for Rolls Royce:
August 2: Uncontained Failure on a Trent 1000 in Darby
August 30: Uncontained Failure at a Qantas B747-400 powered by RB211’s
November 4: Uncontained Failure at a Qantas A380-842 powered by Trent 900’s
Not to mention the more minor problems two B747-400 had with a RB211 (apparently a contained failure) and with fuel hydraulics.

And now: Pratt sues Rolls on patent infringement regarding the Trent 900 and Trent 1000 fan blades.
Let us recall: not long ago, in August, Rolls Royce filed a lawsuit against Pratt & Whitney, claiming that P&W would infringe their patented design for swept fan blades with their fan blades on the GP7000 and the PW1000G (and others). This case is due to go before a jury in the US in the first half of 2011.
Pratt & Whitney apparently fights back now, filing also a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), which could be very damaging for Rolls Royce, as if the ITC rules in Pratt’s favor, RR could get blocked to ship any more Trent 1000’s to Boeing. And if the UK courts come to the same conclusion, RR would also have a problem to ship the Trent 900 to Airbus.

But could that be Pratt’s real interest? Not only P&W and RR would be deadly enemies forever, also Airbus and Boeing would not be happy about P&W, as deliveries for the B787 and A380 to customers with Trent 900 and 1000 engines would be (further) delayed or in the worst case impossible. As a last consequence you could expect RR to go bankrupt.

So I doubt that this is what P&W is really looking for – even if Airbus goes ahead with the A320NEO and P&W developing a version of their PW1000G Geared Turbo Fan for it without Rolls Royce, the two companies will still be tied for centuries, as the V2500 will continue to be shipped until 2015 at least and aftermarket activities will continue  - say – twenty years plus.

So what could be the real goal behind the legal actions?
My guess: P&W wants RR to “cooperate” a little bit more on the narrowbody front:
RR officially states that reengining the current Boeing and Airbus narrowbodies does not make any sense. But it sounded a little bit different until RR was officially put out of the reengining game by Airbus. And as RR has no interest to participate as  a junior partner in the GTF, RR would be out of the narrowbody market at least until a clean sheet design either by Boeing or Airbus arrives. So one can imagine that RR will do everything (legal, of course) they can do to prevent the Airbus reengining by hindering and blocking P&W’s PW1000G to be one of the –NEO engines.
I do not know how the IAE contract between Pratt, RR and the other partners looks like, but maybe RR can block an engine offering for the A320NEO by P&W – or block order conversions from the V2500 to a PW1000G once the A320NEO is officially offered to costumers.

It will be interesting to see how RR will come out of these two battles:
-          the technical battle: RR has to regain confidence on the Trent 900/1000 – and maybe the XWB
-          the legal battle with P&W


Picture of ruptured disk

Sorry, but somehow I cannot edit the latest post anymore - so here is the picture of the ruptured Trent 900 engine disk:


The Qantas A380 engine failure - a disaster for Rolls Royce?

A first serious incident happened with an A380 – the first Qantas A380, registered VH-OQA, made an emergency landing in Singapore, not long after taking off from the same airport.
Pictures show that the aft part of the No.2 Trent 900 nacelle is missing. Eye witnesses from the ground said that there was a loud bang (or explosion) and trails of smoke after that.

All this points to an uncontained failure. In recent months we saw two other uncontained failures in RR engines – first a RB211, also with Qantas, but on a B747-400 and then the Trent1000 on a testbed in Derby.

If at least the Trent1000 failure and the -so far- suspected failure in the Trent 900 of the A380 are in any conjunction remains to be seen. At least it is not good publicity for Rolls Royce in a time that is not easy for the No.2 engine maker:

  • Deliveries of the Trent 900 are, due to the production problems and slow ramp-up of the A380, not in numbers that were anticipated in the business case. Any profit from this engine program is delayed by years (the same is also true for the GP7000, of course).
  • Even heavier probably , the Trent 1000 drags on profit margins. The 787 is late by almost three years – if the first delivery in mid-February will be met. According to the original ramp-up plan, there should have been around 200 B787 in service by now, maybe half of if powered by the Trent 1000. The performance inprovement programs, aimed to meat the promised fuel burn at the aircraft probably doubled development costs.
  • Development of the Trent XWB is in full swing, costing a lot of money, too.
So one could suspect that RR is running into a cash problem. Luckily there are the Trent 700, the leading engine for the A330, and the V2500 and Airbus upping deliveries for the A320. But if these two "cash cow" programmes can save RR in the long run, if there would be a main technical problem in the Trent 900/1000 (and maybe XWB), is questionable. A fundamental technical problem, a desígn fault, could end up in the grounding of the whole Trent powered A380 fleet. Qantas grounded their fleet of six A380 immediately after the incident, Singapore would be hit heavy with eleven A380 in their fleet today, Lufthansa so far took delivery of four aircraft.

It is too early to call today’s failure a disaster for Rolls Royce (and subsequently, for Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and, if the worst comes to the worst, Boeing and all their B787 Trent 100 customers) – but the possibility is there…

Update: meanwhile is is obvious that an uncontaines failure happened. Pictures are showing damage to the wing - Singapore Airlines effectively grounded their fleet also. Officially, all flights are just "delayed" until the engines are inspected, but a 100% inspection of the disks for such a failure would mean to take the engine apart...

Update 2:
Just found the preliminary report of the uncontained failure in the RB211-524, which happened on August 30th. It can be found here.
The key observations are (quoted from the report):

All of the turbine blades had separated from the IP turbine disk.
Blades from the three LP turbine stages were either fractured through the airfoil section or separated from the disk.
The LP stage 1 nozzle guide vanes were destroyed. The remaining LP nozzle stages were substantially damaged.
The LP turbine bearing and adjacent phonic wheel and speed probes were destroyed.
• The IP shaft was severed towards the aft end.

This picture is obviously a part of a turbine disk that fell on the island of Batam - we will soon hear if it is also the IPT disk - at least all baldes are missing.

The Trent 1000 failure also happened in the IP Turbine. If now yesterday's failure also can be tracde back to the IPT, I would be happy not to be employed in Derby...


New 787 delays?

Flightblogger today reports about possible new delivery delays of the 787 due to rework being done before delivering the aircraft to the customers.
As long as Boeing does not confirm that there is a new delay we have to talk about speculations – but so far, every time such a speculation came across there was at least some truth in it (just to sound polite…).
The article suggests that the first aircraft will still be delivered to ANA in mid February, but won’t be able to enter service without further modifications. I guess this is something the ANA management will not be happy with: they won’t take delivery of an aircraft without being able to take it with them – just makes no sense, even if we can assume that ANA will effectively get this aircraft for free.
But the exact timing of this first delivery does only have symbolic meaning anyway. (One of) the important question(s) is: when will Boeing be able to deliver the “Dreamliner” in numbers?
We would need more information about the specific problems and modifications that Boeing deals with. Jon Ostrower lists a few of them:
·        a flight deck window popping sound
·        cabin condensation issues
·        reworking passenger doors
·        changes to the Trent 1000 engine (Package B)

The pooping sound of the window should not be a big issue – proper insulation should care for that.
Cabin condensation seems to point to a problem with the air conditioning. That could mean everything: if they are lucky they just have to adjust the software – if they are unlucky, the humidifier are too small and have to be redesigned.
Reworking the passenger doors should not be the thing that holds up deliveries for months – reworking the stabilizers was probably more complicated, but is not a new problem and led to the latest (official) delivery slip – among the problems with the Trent engines.
So from what is being mentioned, a new slippage for months would not be explainable. The question is: which problems are not mentioned here?
I guess Boeing will soon have to give answers to the Flightblogger report – they should tell the public the whole story, they already lost too much credibility to just release the obvious…


Thinking about LEAP-X and TECH-X

Over the last week there was growing speculation about when the LEAP-X engine, one of the candidates for the A320NEO, would be ready for the planned EIS in late 2015. I briefly discussed that matter in my last post, referring to an article in the AviationWeek. Meanwhile, also Ernest Arvai from AirInsight posted a story, speculating what might be behind the A320NEO decision holdup.
So let us go back in history – well, it’s just two or three years anyway…:

In 2008 at the Farnborough Airshow, when CFM for the first time talked about the LEAP-X in public, a certification in 2016 was announced as possible.
This announcement meant a turning point for CFM, as with the LEAP-X CFM changed their engine architecture strategy from a core with a single stage HPT to a 2 stage HPT. Simultaneously, the HPC got an additional 2 stages, driving up the pressure ratio from 16 to about 22 and thus becoming (more or less) a scaled down GEnx HPC. Thus, by changing the core architecture, the LEAP56 became the LEAP-X.
The reason for this radical change was rising fuel prices, changing the balance between fuel costs and maintenance costs in the equation for determining the operating costs of an aircraft. Fuel became the No.1 in operating costs for many airlines, particularly in the U.S., by then exceeding labor costs.
But obviously the preparations for LEAP56 and tests for the single stage HPT core were too advanced to stop the whole effort. This core was now called the eCore1 and was tested in two campaigns starting in 2009. The eCore2 will be tested in mid 2011, a second build is foreseen for mid 2012. The first engine to test should spin in early 2013 with certification expected by CFM sometimes in 2014.
In 2008, the LEAP-X handout (thanks, Scott!) at Farnborough showed a similar timeline with the eCore2 testing at the end of 2011 and a “Full Engine Demo” in 2012.
So the core tests moved a little bit to the right, the FETT moved a year out, but certification is aimed two years earlier.
An here the speculation begins:
  • CFM has dramatically accelerated their pace of technology development
  • CFM ousted some technologies to be ready for a 2014 certification, sacrificing SFC and maybe adding these technologies in a second step
Then there is the TECH-X. Building on the same technologies, the same core, scaled down from the LEAP-X, this engine was chosen by Bombardier to power their new Global Family members (Global 7000 and Global 8000). The Global 7000 will hit the market in 2016. What does that mean for the engine? Take a look at the rival, the Gulfstream 650. First flight happened in November 2009, certification is planned for 2011, first deliveries to customers are slated for 2012. Flight tests thus take about 2 years. Even if we assume that Bombardier will hand over the first aircraft right after certification we can assume that the flight test will take about two years, so the TECH-X engine has to be certified in late 2014 to meet the (late) 2016 delivery target.
The GE press release sets the official timetable like this:
  • eCore Demonstrator 2 in 2011
  • first engine run in 2013
That would allow a certification in 2014 – so far, so good.
But then I stumbled across this article from Flightglobal’s John Croft, stating that building up the first engine would be in 2013 with the engine running in 2014. That would allow for a certification only in 2015. I am puzzled…

Now – the whole thing would not really be that important as there is no competing engine on the Global 7000/8000. But if one transfers that story over to the A320NEO, this could be the key to many answers surrounding the questions why the widely anticipated launch of the –NEO did not happen so far.
CFM did not react so far about the growing speculations that a late 2015 EIS LEAP-X for the A320NEO might be not the LEAP-X with the fuel burn vs. the current CFM56 (-15%) as advertised. The aero-geek-public is keen to know (at least I am), so let's wait for a clarification on this matter coming from Cincinnati or Villaroche.


737 sales inflation

Recent weeks saw an inflationary order boom of Boeing's 737. 30, 40, 50 at a time, Unidentified Customers mostly. Boeing has sold 446 of the 737 so far this year, with only 14 cancellations. Book-to-bill ratio is well above 1. If you take the already announced production rates into account, production now would run until mid 2016 without any further orders.
Airbus does not have this sales fortune with their A320 family so far this year - 221 sales is not bad, of course, but book-to-bill is clearly below 1. Still, without any further orders and with announced production rates, the last A320 family aircraft would leave the factory in mid 2016.
But what could be behind the recent sales success of the Boeing 737? Here is my (2 cents worth) theory:
Boeing tries to drive Airbus into the -NEO by selling the 737 at huge discounts and then outperforming the A320NEO with a new aircraft.
If you followed the conference call on Boeing's 3rd quarter results, you can guess that Boeing decided not to reengine and to develop a 737 successor for the 2020 time frame. Whether Airbus believes that this successor will be significantly better than the A320NEO will probably trigger the decision pro or contra the -NEO.
If Airbus believes that in the early 20's there is not much more technology out there than today, then Airbus will go forward with reengining (or is it reengineing?). But if Airbus fears an overwhelming superior competitor coming out of that development, then Airbus will forego the -NEO idea.
So what technology could be there ready for EIS in the early 2020's - meaning that it is available (TechnologyReadyLevel6 for techies) in 2016 at the latest? Enginewise: not much more than today I would say. Rereading an article from AviationWeek it is even questionable if all the engine technology for the -NEO would be there in 2016, as the article suggests that the LEAP-X1C for the C919 does not feature all the technology CFM officially claims it has on hands - if that is true, then this would also be true for the potential CFM offering for the A320NEO and the 737RE - and maybe that is the reason why Boeing kind of backs aways from the -RE story. Combined with the well-known problems for installing the larger engine under the wing of the 737, the LEAP-X would not get to the same SFC level than the larger fan-GTF (81", as Airbus revealed at the ISTAT conference) for the A320.
So, if the differentiation between a A320NEO can't come from the engine, it has to come from the aircraft itself. What is possible? A carbon-fibre fuselage, of course. Although, a recent posting from AirInsight suggests that maybe Aluminium-Lithium could be the material of choice for future high-cycle aircraft - just look at the Bombardier CSeries.
Anyway, significant weight savings could come from a new material. But then I guess everybody expects the fuselage to be wider than today's 737, at least matching the A320 in cabin comfort - meaning, that a portion of the weight savings is eaten up by the larger fuselage diameter.
A few years ago Boeing scrapped their 737RS studies. I talked to a Boeing Technical Fellow not long after that announcement and he told me that one of the reasons was that they did not found enough weight savings back then. As today's 737NG is still build upon the certification of the very first 737, Boeing did not have to take care for some (weight costly) security measures that you have to build into an airplane if you want to certify it today. The Boeing Fellow expected the extra weight you have to put into the aircraft at 10,000lbs, if I remember correctly. So Boeing would have to find 10,000lbs weight savings to be where they are today...
The wing is another area to improve the efficiency of an aircraft. Here chances to see carbon-fibre is better than for the fuselage. Lower weight and better aerodynamics could lead to a few percentage points in improvement.
Another way to improve efficiency is to enlarge the aircraft, as this article suggests (of course this works out for the airline only when they can fill the aircraft).
Undoubtly, the trend goes to larger aircraft and there is no replacement for the ca. 1000 757's on the horizon so far. So both next generation narrowbody families from Airbus and Boeing will cover the 757 - at least in passenger capacity, not necessarily in range.
So, what is my verdict on the -NEO question? Don't know, but we all should know by December 31.
Until then we can all have fun with speculating, just as I did here.