Boeing's big gamble

A recent article by Bloomberg about the new composite wing that could replace the current wing on the A320neo, a project called “The Wing of Tomorrow” by Airbus, spurred some discussions about the future Airbus narrowbody product line and how Boeing would/could react.

The subject, as Scott Hamilton writes, is not new at all. I heard about it in 2013 for the first time. Airbus at that time thought that Bombardier would launch a CS500 (today discussed as the A220-500) and thought that the CS300 was about 5% better in economics than even advertised by Bombardier to customers. This gives us a first indication of how good an A220-500 could be, as the A220-300 has at least the same costs per seat than the A320neo, if not better. A stretched aircraft always tends to have better seat costs than the original one, so the A220-500 has better seat mile costs than the A320neo “by definition”.

If the A220-500 it would be an A320neo and B737-8 killer, as Scott Hamilton thinks, is another question though and depends on how the A220-500 exactly would look like and what the mission is an airline is looking for.

Start with the current payload-range diagrams of the A320neo and the A220-300.

Looking at the payload-range diagram we see that indeed with 165 x 220lbs per passenger = 33klbs of payload the range is in the 3400nm range.

The payload-range diagram of the A220-300 is not yet updated by Airbus (at least not for the “flying public”) and still shows around 3100nm range with 140 passengers and 149000lbf MTOW. If we believe in the Airbus claim that with the new MTOW of 156000lb range would be 3550nm we get the new range-payload line approximately as a parallel line to the old one. Now let us seat 165 in that aircraft (knowing that it would not work of course) and we see that range would fall to around 3000nm by the addition of the extra 25 passengers of payload.

To seat these 25 passenger we would need to stretch the aircraft by five rows of about 4m of 13ft. This is about the same difference in length than between the A220-100 and the A220-300.

For simplicity, let us consider that the difference in OEW between the A220-300 and a potential A220-500 with unchanged MTOW would be same as the difference between the OEW of the A22-100 and the A220-300: 4100lb. Then we would get a range of the stretched A220-500 aircraft of around 2500nm.

On one hand, this is enough for probably around 95% of all flight a A320neo of a B737-8 is used for today. On the other hand, flexibility is key for many airlines, so the limited range of an A220-500 would be a problem for many airlines.

Now we can increase the MTOW of the A220-500 to increase range.

Start with a comparison of the wing loading: the A220 wing has 112.3 square meter, the A320neo 122.6. To get to same wing loading we could increase the MTOW of the A220-500 by about 3500lb. This would increase the range by approximately 300nm to about 2800nm. The original CS300 was advertised with this range. With the same wing loading and the same generation of engines, especially with a bypass ratio that is in the same range, runway characteristics should be comparable as well then.

So would the A220-500 be a A320neo and B737-8 killer? If you definitely do not need more range than 2800nm it could be.

For Airbus, with their “Wing of Tomorrow”, this would not be such a big problem. They could do the A320.5neo++ (or whatever it will be called). For Boeing, not having a competitive product against the A220-100 and -300 to begin with, the A220-500, together with a A320.5, could turn into a bigger problem. Both aircraft would squeeze the B737-8 from both above and below, the A320.5 with better range and economics and the A220-500 with dramatically better economics.

But the ball is in Boeings court. As it looks, they have to move first, either with an aircraft that aims at the so called Middle of the Market, that is now captured by the A321XLR, but leaving the B737-8 alone. Or by replacing the MAX family soon, which could counter an A220-500 on the low end but leaving the A321XLR and even more a potential A322 alone on the playground.

Canceling the joint venture with Embraer could have been a big failure going forward, as “Boeing Brazil” could have worked on the lower end of the narrowbody product line.

Disclaimer: these thoughts are just easy considerations without going through all the (engineering) steps necessary. But it gives us a hint where the different aircraft are relative to each other.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely what I think as well, it was a very big mistake in the long run not to make the Embraer deal. These Embraer E2 very very capable aircraft and would have been a perfect lower end of their product line.