August 31, 2007

Holy Easter Egg Batman - Fly Google Earth

There are lots of you, like me, out there who love aviation and are frequent users of software like Microsoft Flight Simulator. I've been flying the MSFS products since FS95 and count myself as a loyal user.

So, when Google Earth came out I had to wonder, why can't I have ground scenery and terrain like this in Microsoft Flight Sim? Well, right now there's no way to combine the two.

However, and this is a BIG however, what if you could turn Google Earth into a flight simulator of its own? What if you could fly a Cirrus SR22 or an General Dynamics F-16 over any point on the earth? Would this be something that might interest you?

I know you answered yes.

Google Earth version 4.2 is a flight simulator now. Yes, you read that right. All the visual eye candy is now available to be flown over in a crude (but flyable) rendering of an SR22 or an F-16. It even has the option for a joystick.

You'll need the latest version which you can get here. FREE

Once you get your hands on it enter CTRL + ALT + A (Capital A - make sure caps lock is on). This will bring up the flight simulator window.

Happy open source flying.

The complete instructions from Google can be found here.

August 29, 2007

Covering the Call

On Wednesday, September 5 Scott Carson and Mike Bair will be providing a comprehensive 787 program update. The conference call will begin at 10am EST.

I have been invited, along with other members of the media and industry analysts, to join in on the call.

Similar to the July 8th roll out, Flightblogger will the live blog the conference call as it happens to bring the developments on the program to you as they are announced.

Also, there's this little news item worth mentioning:
Boeing mechanics asked to transfer to Wash. plant
Wichita Eagle
Boeing has a need for extra mechanics at its facility in Everett. The 787 Dreamliner program needs an additional 40 mechanics, according to an e-mail to Wichita mechanics.

August 27, 2007

August 27, 2007

I am back after a short (and much needed) vacation. I've tweaked the design for these updates to make information more accessible. A master list of all updates will still be available at its original page: The Dreamliner Learns to Fly.

Structural, wiring and systems installation continues on Dreamliner One as it has since July 9th. At last word, the flight deck only had rudder pedals installed. The vertical tail has not yet been reattached, however the aft pressure drogue has installed in preparation for flight test. An ANA painted rudder has arrived in the rear of the factory in Building 40-36. This is destined for Dreamliner Two when final assembly begins in October. The aircraft is likely to wear full ANA paint. Passenger doors 1 and 2 have been installed on the Static Rig which is still in the number one position inside Building 40-26.

UPDATE: The vertical tail (without the rudder) was reattached to the fuselage on Sunday, August 26.

With the change in delivery order, work in Charleston has shifted to the Fatigue Airframe (ZY998). Section 45/11 and 44 have been joined and Sections 46 & 43 are being deburred and drilled in preparation for completion of the center fuselage. Limited work continues on Dreamliner Two with the installation of clips and fittings.

August 22, 2007

Tweaking The Schedule

The relocation of the Static Air Frame to Building 40-23, which was tentatively scheduled for the night of August 23rd, has been pushed back to the night of September 11th. This will undoubtedly be an extraordinary opportunity for spotters to see two 787s at once.

In addition, Flightblogger has learned that Dreamliner Two final assembly is now scheduled to begin October 9th. Assembly was initially set to begin after the arrival of major structural parts to Everett on August 18th, however Boeing has reworked its delivery schedule with its sub-assembly partners.

August 20, 2007

Boeing faces hurdles, opportunities on the road to an on-time 787 entry into service

According to multiple sources inside the 787 program, Boeing has delayed delivery of major structural parts for Dreamliner Two indefinitely as work feverishly continues on preparing Dreamliner One for its first flight this fall.

Put simply, there is a small bottleneck inside of Building 40-26 at the Boeing factory in Everett interfering with deliveries. Two of the four final assembly positions are in use. The first position in the rear of the factory is occupied by the Static Rig (ZY997), the second by Dreamliner One (ZA001).

Dreamliner One continues to undergo extremely extensive structural and systems assembly and is currently jacked up off its landing gear surrounded by scaffolding, making the forward movement to make way for the Static Rig difficult until it returns to pavement.

Dreamliner One undergoing extensive assembly in Everett

In addition, Flightblogger has learned that once deliveries do resume, the Fatigue Test Rig (ZY998) will be delivered prior to Dreamliner Two (ZA002).

Mary Hanson, spokeswoman for the 787 program confirmed that a change in the delivery schedule existed, “The 787 program has directed several structural partners to re-look at their ship dates on [Dreamliner Two] and complete systems, wiring and other critical installations before shipping to final assembly.”

Hanson added that the delay has nothing to do with Dreamliner One, and felt the characterization of the schedule change as a postponement or delay was not accurate, and that first flight, certification and entry into service are not affected by this decision. Hanson also declined to comment on the bottleneck inside Building 40-26.

According to sources, Boeing’s public stance on the delay is accurate with regard to the travel work; however the delay in deliveries is in part due to the around-the-clock singular focus of the final assembly team on preparing Dreamliner One for its maiden flight.

With Dreamliner One in its current position, there is no room in the rear of the factory to begin final assembly of the Fatigue Test Rig or Dreamliner Two. Delivery of Dreamliner Two structures from South Carolina, Kansas, Japan and Italy were all initially planned for an August 18 timeframe.

In addition, Dreamliner One still has yet to have its tail, engines, wing-body fairing, flaps and landing gear doors reinstalled following a comprehensive disassembly which occurred after the July 8th roll-out ceremony.

"Boeing is doing everything they can to finish the job but there are jobs that just cannot be sped up," said one Boeing employee with knowledge of the program.

Testing on the Static Rig needs to take place three doors down in Building 40-23, which is located between the 747 and 767 final assembly lines. Before the Static Rig can move to Building 40-23, Dreamliner One must be rolled out of the factory. The width of Building 40-26 is only large enough to accommodate one 787 at a time.

According to sources who have seen Boeing's internal schedules the Static Rig is tentatively scheduled to move out of 40-26 on August 23. The move will take place during the late night shift change just as it did for the appearance of Dreamliner One when it left the factory for the paint shop on June 25.

The indefinite delay of continued deliveries to Everett present a distinct problem for Boeing, which has an ambitious nine month flight test program planned. The test program will employ four aircraft (ZA001-ZA004) as the 787 Dreamliner seeks certification with Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines for entry into service in May of 2008 with All Nippon Airways.

Without a second, third and fourth 787 to quickly join Dreamliner One on the rigorous flight test regime, Boeing will be hard-pressed to meet its May 2008 EIS goal. As an important point of comparison, the first and second 777 aircraft flew 32 days apart in 1994 and the third 777 followed just 22 days later. The 777, the last all-new Boeing aircraft, completed an eleven-month, five aircraft flight test certification program in April 1995. The 787 certification program will likely have to match or exceed the pace of aircraft introduction on the 777 program to meet its goals.

Facilities in Charleston and Wichita are working around-the-clock to prepare 787 fuselage sections for final assembly and delivery to Everett. The first 787 fuselage pieces delivered to Everett were almost entirely bare of systems and represented mainly the structural shell of the aircraft. Extensive "travel work" is being currently performed by the final assembly team in Everett to install wiring, ducting, insulation and systems for the first 787.

The indefinite delay in deliveries to Everett could also provide an opportunity for Boeing to test its groundbreaking business model. Boeing hopes that by delaying deliveries to Everett, they can allow the 787 subcontractors to more fully complete the assembly of follow-on aircraft fuselage sections.

Section 46 for ZY998 arrives in Charleston

The deferment of assemblies will allow for independent work to be done outside of Puget Sound, enabling the Everett-based final assembly and delivery team to continue its focus on Dreamliner One. Once Dreamliner One has been fully assembled, the follow-on fuselage structures can be joined in less time in hopes of keeping the flight test, certification and delivery on track.

Hanson added, “To allow traveled work to continue to flow from our partners into final assembly would deter the 787 program from setting up the Lean production system we envision. [The change] is necessary and will enable the program to get the right production system up and running over the long term.”

Another source, a veteran engineer of Boeing commercial aircraft programs, including the 787, is concerned about the planning moving forward.

“Boeing needs to look at the certification date and work backwards from those milestones looking at how to achieve this program goal by goal. Right now they are moving forward, but there’s no connection between milestones.”

Deliveries to sub-contractors are expected to continue with fuselage sections arriving in Charleston from Italy and Japan; however no timeline for the next deliveries appear to be in place.

The veteran engineer added, “There’s a lot of energy and time being wasted. Teams all over the globe are ready to work. The [Large Cargo Freighter] should be moving empty fixtures back to their respective partners' manufacturing locations. This could be done while Evergreen International flight crews are doing required training. Forward motion is essential - even if it’s slow progress, it’s still progress.”

August 15, 2007

Approaching Power On

Word from the factory floor is that power on should happen within the next 10 days.

UPDATE: After speaking with several people in Everett it looks as though power on will not happen in the next 10 days despite a fervent effort to achieve this goal. 500 of 600 tasks still remain before this can occur. There is a general time line for when this could happen, and will provide an update as soon as one becomes available.

Flightblogger Exclusive: Window Seats

There has been an ongoing debate inside the aviation enthusiast community since the beginning of the 787 program. The question has been repeated more times than I can count:

Are the 787 windows really any bigger?

I would like once and for all to put this debate to rest.

They ARE bigger. In fact, they are HUGE.

18.4 inches tall by 10.7 inches wide.
We've heard the numbers and we've seen the pictures. What follows are the actual window frames developed by Alenia that are slated to be installed on Dreamliner Two. One day in the not so distant future, a passenger will look out this window on a flight on an All Nippon Airways 787. To illustrate the actual size of these windows there is a tape measure in the picture that shows the size of the window in both metric and English units. They are at full resolution so you can read them clearly. Please feel free to click the images to view the larger versions.

The final image is the Dreamliner Two Center Fuselage (which will receive these window frames) in all her glory being assembled by the Charleston "Dream Team" which has identified, tackled and solved the challenges placed in front of them with extraordinary skill and grace. The work they are doing is truly incredible. Since this photo was taken, there has been significant work done on the center fuselage section including the installation of ducting, insulation and other key systems.

All images are exclusive to Flightblogger not to be reposted or published without prior consent.

August 13, 2007

Riddle Me This, Part Four in a Series

A final go 'round...L/N 19:
Q: If John Madden's friend would rearrange the letters in the name of his store, he'd have the initials of this airline.
A: China Eastern Airlines

L/N 20:
Q: Finally, a level playing field to compete with their arch-rival!
A: Japan Airlines

L/N 21:

Q: Some people might misspell this airline's name, but I bet you wouldn't.

L/N 22:
Q: Mall record stores wouldn't sell the album as originally titled, so the spelling was reversed to a more acceptable efil4zaggin for them.

he final five...

L/N 23:
35 00 N, 105 00 E 90 Degrees

L/N 24:
"You want me to chuck a crustacean onto a plastic doll?!"

L/N 25:
Perhaps the most notoriously bureaucratic airline in the world, let alone the subcontinent.

L/N 26:
Please refrain from yelling "Free Eritrea!" at the crew.

L/N 27:
When I go to bed at night, I like to sleep under a nice down comforter.

August 8, 2007

The Dreamliner Learns To Fly

Updated: September 19, 2007 - 12:00 AM EDT (Updates in blue)
Following the on-time roll out of the first Dreamliner, the 787 team will be switching gears to prepare the aircraft for its first flight during the early fall of 2007. This page will track the progress of final systems installation and pre-flight testing of ZA001 as it prepares to take to the skies for the first time.

Photo Courtesy Charles Conklin

Part 1: Where in the world is the 787 Dreamliner?
- Last Update May 16, 2007
- Tracked the arrival of all the major 787 components to Everett.

Part 2: Building the Dreamliner
- Last Update July 5, 2007
- Followed the final assembly and roll out to the paint shop

Please enjoy the archive of these posts to provide a great deal of detailed background on how the Dreamliner arrived to this point in its young life.The first two parts in the series are now considered closed and will not be updated.

Key Tests on Dreamliner One prior to first flight

'Gauntlet' Test
The 787 will be hooked up to an external computer to simulate every imaginable failure. The aircraft software will take its first flight and will be "fooled" into thinking it is flying.

'Wag the Dog' Test
The flight test team will test and measure the "equal and opposite reaction" of all of the moving parts on the exterior of the aircraft to see the structural effect on Dreamliner One.

High Blow Test
In order to test the pressure seals, the cabin will be pressurized to 14.2 PSI simulating maximum possible pressure inside the aircraft. Note that the 787 will be pressurized to an altitude of 6000 feet versus 8000 feet of aircraft currently in service.

High / Low Speed Taxi Tests
High and low speed taxi tests will demonstrate the integrity of the braking system. This test, at its max speed, will take the aircraft right up to just before V1 speed. This will be the last test before first flight, which historically has taken place on the following day.

Editor's Note: If I have misrepresented any tests or forgotten any, please let me know.


September 9, 2007
Updates from Everett and Charleston

September 4, 2007
Temporary Fasteners Causing Major Problems for 787 Program

August 27, 2007
Updates from Everett and Charleston

August 20, 2007
Boeing faces hurdles, opportunities on the road to an on-time 787 entry into service. Flightblogger coverage in the Seattle Times.

August 10, 2007
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dreamliner One is expected to fly for the first time no earlier than October. The final pieces (section 44 and 46) for the Fatigue Test frame center fuselage arrived in Charleston August 9 from Italy.

August 8, 2007

LCF1 officially returned to Paine Field August 7 after finishing certification testing in Portland. LCF2 completed delivery of sections 45/11 and 43 to Charleston for the fatigue test frame (ZY998) on Aug. 5. and were loaded into the alignment fixture ahead of schedule. LCF2 left Charleston on the morning of Aug. 8 for Italy to pick up section 44 and 46 (ZY998) and is expected to return to CHS Aug. 9. In contrast to LN1 which was delivered as a bare fuselage, LN2 will be "stuffed" with Environmental Control System ducting, insulation and initial electrical work. LN3 will contain even more systems prior to delivery to Everett. Six airframes are expected to be in production in Charleston by October. Trent 1000 engines received airworthiness certification on Aug. 8.

August 3, 2007
LCF2 left Everett the morning of August 3 for Nagoya. It is picking up section 11/45 and 43 for ZA998 (Fatigue Test Frame) . It is heading for Charleston and is due for arrival on Monday. Some systems will be installed on LN003 before shipment as per Boeing's original planning. Shipments for LN002 will take place around August 18th. It appears as though there will be regular flight numbers for the LCF flights as well. Also, the word from the factory floor: "LN9997 is going VERY well. Moving right along. Not quite done. LN1 as of yesterday was finally starting to pick up steam. We have tons of systems waiting to be installed. It will all come with some time. Which we have... we'll be ready as soon as we possibly can."

July 31, 2007
Very little news has come out of Everett in the last ten days regarding the status of Dreamliner One. Systems installation and wiring is proceeding normally. The flight deck, at last check, had not been installed in addition to the engines as well as vertical tail fin. Evergreen crews have assumed full control of the LCFs and are flying training routes with no cargo aboard. Boeing announced that the first flight of the 787 would not take place until the later part of September. Boeing can comfortably begin the flight test program without any impact on entry in to service, which is planned for May of 2008. If the flight test schedule slips to October or beyond, Boeing is prepared to make necessary arrangements to ensure an on-time EIS.

July 21, 2007
LCF1 officially returned to the United States on July 18 in Portland, Oregon where it will undergo final certification tests by the FAA until. It will not fly again until August 2. All parts for the 787 static rig have arrived in Everett and final assembly is underway. The horizontal stabilizer will not be installed on ZY997 and substituted with a pivot joint which will ensure proper testing. This was the same for the 777 program as well. No major assembly components have arrived in Everett since July 11. Assembly of Dreamliner One continues normally toward first flight.

July 18, 2007
Final assembly on LN2/ZA002 is expected to begin in late July. LCF1 is expected to return to Everett after a long stay in Taiwan for final modifications. The first flights using LCF2 under the Evergreen call sign were made on July 17 to train Evergreen crews, as well as relocate shipping fixtures.

July 13, 2007
Further information has expanded on previously known details: The engines, vertical fin, wing leading edge slats, movable trailing edges, horizontal tail leading edge, elevators, passenger doors No.3 and 4 in aft. fuselage, wing to body faring, and landing gear doors have all been removed as structural work system installation continues on the way towards preparing for first flight.

July 12, 2007
Dreamliner One was rolled out of the factory on schedule on July 8, 2007 in Everett, Washington after spending June 26-July 8 in the paint shop across from Building 40-26 where she was assembled. ZA001 was rolled to the 747 assembly line while cleanup in 40-26 occurred. Dreamliner One returned to 40-26 July 9 following the completion of cleanup from the Roll-Out ceremony. Following the return to the factory, LN1 was jacked up again and "a lot of parts have been removed" to make way for systems installations. "A mad dash to first flight is on." There are more than 600 tasks to complete before power on. Currently about 40 tasks are being worked.

LN1/ZA001- RR powered and first to fly
- All major structures in Everett
- Undergoing final assembly, which officially began May 21
- System software v. 6.5 currently being tested. 6.7 to follow shortly.
- Will be entering the paint shop around June 25
- Will be delivered to ANA after refurbishment.

- Major structure assembly is complete and Dreamliner One was
brought to the paint shop on the night of June 26. It is expected to remain in the paint shop until around 2pm on 7/8/07.
- Rolled out of 40-26 on the afternoon of July 8.
LN9997/ZY997 - no engines, systems, etc. - Static Test frame, Wing Break Test
- All sections will be "in house and workable" by July 8.
- Wing in production in Japan

- Section 47 and 48 developed in SC. (photo)
- Section 44 and 46 arrived from Italy April 20.
- Section 43, 45/11 arrived from Japan on May 15.
- Section 43, 45, 44 (photo) /46 delivered to Everett July 3.

Section 41 delivered to Everett July 3 (Production photo photo, photo 2)
- Tail fin and rudder now in assembly bay in Everett.
- Wings arrived in Everett from Japan on the morning of July 7.
- Section 47/48 arrived in Everett on July 11.
- Currently undergoing assembly in the rear of Building 40-26.
- All fuselage sections have been joined and the wings have been mated.

LN9998/ZY998 - No engines, systems, etc. Fatigue test airframe.
- Section 48 currently in production in SC. (photo)
- Section 45/11, 43 arrived in SC 8/5.
- Section 44 and 46 arrived in SC on 8/9 from Italy.

002 - RR powered and test flight
- Section 43 and 11/45 arrived in Charleston on June 28.
- Section 44 and 46 arrived in Charleston from Italy on June 26.
- Wing in production in Japan

- Section 41 currently production in KS. (photo)
- Will be delivered to ANA after refurbishment.
- Final assembly is expected to begin following shipments around 8/18.
LN3/ZA003 - RR powered and test flight
- Section 41 currently production in KS. (photo)
- Sections 43, 45/11, 44, 46 arrived from Italy and Japan on August 18, 19.
- Will be delivered to Northwest after refurbishment.
LN4/ZA004 - RR powered and test flight
- Section 41 currently production in KS. (photo, photo 2)
- Will be delivered to Northwest after refurbishment.
- Section 41 in production in KS. (photo)
LN5/ZA005 - GE powered and test flight
- Section 41 currently production in KS. (photo)
- Will be delivered to Royal Air Maroc after refurbishment.
LN6/ZA006 - GE powered and test flight
- Section 41 currently production in KS. (photo)
- Will be delivered to Royal Air Maroc after refurbishment.
LN7/ZA007 - First to be delivered to ANA.
LN8/ZA008 - First to be delivered to Air China.

August 7, 2007

LCF Flight Numbers Explained

I had previously posted on the relative regularity of the LCF flights from here on out as they are operated by Everegreen. The flight numbers are fixed and will be consistent. However, not in the way I previously thought. In fact, there is a specific logic and formula to each flight number. Within each flight number lies a great deal of information about the flight. The formula is as follows:

- Snohomish County / Paine Field, Everett, WA
TAR - M.A. Grottag Airport, Grottaglie, Italy
IAB - McConnell AFB, Wichita, KS
CHS- Charleston AFB/International Airport, Charleston, SC
NGO - Chūbu Centrair International Airport, Nagoya, Japan

There are many different combinations.
Here are some examples:


Eastbound Flight
Delivery of section 45/11, 43


Westbound Flight
Delivery of section 44/46

Westbound Flight
Delivery of horizontal stabilizer


Eastbound Flight
Delivery of wings

August 6, 2007

Five Questions with Richard Aboulafia

Richard Aboulafia generously offered his time to be the subject of the first installment of a new series here at Flightblogger. This series will pose five questions to major aviation industry players to provide a unique view of global air transport.

Aboulafia currently serves as Vice-President of Analysis at the Teal Group Corporation. He is a highly respected member of the aviation industry and his commentary and analysis has appeared in far too many prestigious places to list here. In addition he is a graduate of my alma mater, The George Washington University, and holds a Masters degree in War Studies from King’s College, University of London. Aboulafia's complete biography is available on his website.

Q: What do you think the biggest challenge Boeing faces moving forward with the 787?

A: I think the biggest challenge will be managing the 787 supply chain. It isn't just the huge scope of responsibility entrusted to partners, it's also the unprecedented production numbers. Higher resource prices will only worsen this potential problem.

Q: How should Boeing respond to the A350-1000? Stretch the 787-10 to 350 seats or upgrade the 777-300ER?

A: There's a lot we don't know about the A350. Any further design changes could greatly affect its competitiveness, probably for the better. That metal skeleton might either go away, or be replaced by a composite skeleton. But even with the current A350 design, the -1000 looks like a very respectable player, and Boeing should take it seriously as a competitive threat.

I think Qantas, and perhaps others, are expecting too much from a 787-10. One thing that makes the 787 a great design is that it is optimized for its current range/payload. The price for this optimization is limited growth potential. While a 300-seat 787-10 looks very promising, I think Boeing will introduce an all-new or major derivative 350-400 seat aircraft to replace the 777-300ER, probably around 2017. Given Boeing's likely revenue and profit over the next ten years, there are no financial restraints on Boeing's competitive response.

Q: Will the 737/A320 replacement battle involve only Airbus and Boeing? Or do you think China, Japan, Canada, Brazil will make offerings?

A: I don't think any of these players are in a position to launch a sucessful new narrowbody. Technically, there are few obstacles, but raising the money, getting the product right, selling it, and supporting it are huge challenges. But these players, especially Brazil, might well play a crucial partnership role in making the new Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies happen.

Q: What do you think aviation headlines will look like in 2017?

A: Top Five Headlines in 2017:
"Airbus Board Resolves Dubai-Abu Dhabi Ownership Spat"
"Aeroflot Begins Serving US Domestic Market; Southwest Braces For Competition" "Bombardier Continues CSeries Studies; Launch Possible In 2018"
"Vern Raburn: 'Mistakes Were Made'"
"2017: Year Of The Very Light Jet"

Q: Is there anything thing you wish the industry was talking about that you believe is being ignored right now?

A: I think there are two important long-term trends affecting this industry that the media isn't giving adequate attention. The first is manufacturing globalization, which has made the very idea of a national industry or a national aircraft completely irrelevant. The second is the growing financial power of the oil-rich countries, particularly the Gulf states and Russia. Their government and private capital will transform the world's airline industries, and probably some of the manufacturing business too.

August 5, 2007

Riddle Me This, Part Three in a Series

Here we go again...L/N 14:
Q: You could remove a word from this airline's name, and be left with the the name of another airline. I don't think their respective crews would get along, though.
A: China Southern

L/N 15:
Q: Multiply this one's line number with that of its older sister, and you get the numerical part of the model designation of the airplane whose nose some say resembles the 787's.
A: China Southern

L/N 16:
Q: Jinju and Narrabri might not be at the top of your list of future destinations. But combine their codes, rearrange the letters, and you have it!
A: Hainan Airlines

L/N 17:
Q: Duck.
A: Air China

L/N 18:
Q: There was a band that was known for wearing giant stove pipe hats on stage at their shows, in the style of Abe Lincoln, after whom they named one of their albums. On that album, they sang a song about a lady with a Vietnamese last name.

he next round...

L/N 19:
If John Madden's friend would rearrange the letters in the name of his store, he'd have the initials of this airline.

L/N 20:
Finally, a level playing field to compete with their arch-rival!

L/N 21:

Some people might misspell this airline's name, but I bet you wouldn't.

L/N 22:
Mall record stores wouldn't sell the album as originally titled, so the spelling was reversed to a more acceptable efil4zaggin for them.

August 3, 2007

Finding Regularity

It appears as though the LCF routes operated by Evergreen (previously BOE632 and BOE876) are going to have consistent flight numbers than previously thought:


JFK was used on July 24 as a WX diversion from CHS

EIA5169 left Everett for Japan at 5:25AM PDT this morning. Anyone know what it's going to pick up? Wings for Dreamliner Two?

August 1, 2007

To Ten or Not to Ten?

Dominic Gates penned a spot-on piece in yesterday's Seattle Times. He examined the battle brewing between the Boeing and Airbus on the future of the 350 seat market.

First off, it's worth noting that the fact that these strategic decisions are being made on both sides ultimately validates the two-engine point-to-point strategy. However, Boeing cannot rest on its laurels and current success. Complacency will win them no orders. Boeing owns the 787-8 market (531 orders to date) because a comparison to the A350-800 just doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Its competitor is the -9, not the -8.

Where Airbus actually goes right in their direction is to attack the 777/A340 market. The A350-900 and -1000 are going to go head to head with the 777-200ER and -300ER. The 777 has only been in service for twelve years and the -300ER only flew for the first time in February of 2003. However, this creates a distinctly awkward situation for both plane makers. Airlines currently flying the 777 variants aren't looking to replace them; the market for Airbus here might not be as large as they think. They've made no secret of the fact that the 350 seat market is their target with new customers in Emirates and Qantas. The reason the 787 struck gold was because it hit the market at exactly the right moment to replace aging 767 fleets.

The is extremely awkward for Boeing as well. Boeing is hesitant to commit on the 787-10 for good reasons. First, an early retirement of the -300ER to find a suitable 350 seat replacement doesn't make sense. It's a hugely successful airplane and making a successful hot-selling product (the -300ER) obsolete at this stage by one's own design might not be the best decision. Second, the 787-10 is more in response to the A350-900 than the -1000. A 787-10 would eat into their own 777-200ER market more than the -300ER. It is undoubtedly better to make your own product (-200ER) obsolete than have your competitor do it for you. Most importantly, Boeing isn't sure that an ultra-stretched 787 to 350 seats would produce the same level of efficiency as the shorter models.

Airbus is looking to introduce the three A350 variants one year apart from one another. The -900 is expected to enter service in 2013, followed by the -800 in 2014 and the -1000 the following year. According to Boeing, 787-10 would debut in 2013 a full year before the A350-1000. Boeing does have time to make a decision here, especially based on the fact that both the -900 has to be on time before the -800 or -1000 ever see the light of day. (Remember, the likelihood of seeing an A380-900 is extremely slim.) This is Airbus' chance to redeem themselves after the A380 delays. If they rise to the challenge, and I believe they will out of an existential need, Airbus will have succeeded in eating into the 777 market midway through its life. They did this successfully with the A330 against the 767.

Upgrades and advances in the 777-300ER might be the wisest option ultimately. Increased use of lightweight composites along with engine advances might stave off the threat of the A350-1000 until a full 777 family replacement can come to fruition around 2020. The -10 is the right choice for Boeing, but not for the 350 seat market.