Boeing could offer all-new 777 replacement to rival A350 within four years

By Max Kingsley-Jones

Boeing says that it could respond to any threat from the A350 XWB family with an “overwhelmingly superior” new airliner to replace the 777 before the end of the next decade.

Airbus marketeers believe that they have their rival on the ropes following the sales success of the A350 amid the Boeing 787’s difficulties and the lack of clarity over a succession or development plan for the 777.

“The market has really taken to the XWB because we have a real family approach, with three variants all fully launched and fully ordered by customers,” says Airbus vice-president marketing Andrew Shankland.

© Boeing

The initial A350-900 is due to enter service in 2013, with the smaller -800 and larger -1000 following one and two years after, respectively. The twinjet has been designed as a single family to tackle the market that Boeing competes in with the 777 and 787. And Shankland points out that while in 2004 Boeing was offering three or potentially four 787 models, there are now just two firmly defined variants – the -8 and -9 stretch.

Alan Pardoe, A330/A340/A350 product marketing director, adds that the 787-8 is also under attack from the A330-200. “We’ve improved the -200’s range and our competitor has diminished the range of its product [in early production aircraft], so one perceived advantage of the 787 has simply gone away,” he says.

However, Kostya Zolotusky, managing director of capital markets development at Boeing, says the airframer is “very comfortable” with its product development strategy. “We don’t know exactly what the A350 will be yet, but we see it being an ‘A340NG’ [next generation],” he says, doubting that the new Airbus can offer any “leap-frog technology”.

He says that “in the best case scenario [for the A350]”, Boeing could “come to market within three to four years with a 777-replacement aircraft that is overwhelmingly superior to the A350”.

Speaking in London after a Boeing financier briefing, Kolotusky said that should an all-new replacement not be needed, then “there are a lot of things we can do with the current 777, like a new wing, engines and so on” to be competitive with the XWB.

While the status of the 787-10 “is unclear, Kolotusky says that the development of a Dreamliner variant larger than the -9 remains a longer-term possibility. “We need the 787 flying to understand what we can do with the airframe. Once it’s flying we’ll know how much we can stretch it.”

UK provides Typhoon Tranche 3 update

By Niall O’Keeffe

The UK government has not abandoned plans to acquire a third batch of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

The NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) – which represents the partner nations (the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain) – continues to negotiate with industry on the procurement and support costs. The number of aircraft is also to be determined.

“I hope that we will be in a position to sign a contract later this year,” says UK defence secretary John Hutton. “We look forward to receiving an affordable bid from European industry that will allow us to proceed with a programme that will deliver advanced multirole aircraft to the Royal Air Force and maintain high-technology skills and industrial capability across the UK and Europe.”

© Royal Air Force

The UK Ministry of Defence will now initial a ministerial agreement that the other partner nations signed on 2 April.

In mid-March the Eurofighter partner nations outlined a plan to sign a so-called Tranche 3A contract for 107 of their remaining 236 production aircraft, on the condition that industry first commit to delivering “significant life cost reductions”.

9/11 not to blame for climate effect

By Aimée Turner

The idea that the absence of airliner contrails during the brief US grounding in the wake of the 9/11 attacks had a significant influence on the climate has been challenged by a team of UK and German scientists.

According to US scientists who studied US skies after civil aircraft were temporarily grounded in 2001, the absence of artificial clouds triggered variations in the Earth’s temperature range by 1.1°C (2°F) each day.

But follow-up work by a number of scientists working independently has shown that the observed change in the daily temperature range (DTR) was more likely to be a statistical quirk associated with the weather and that contrails by themselves are likely to have had only a very minor effect on DTR.

Andy Drysdale/REX Features
© Andy Drysdale/REX Features

The claim was that such a 1°C change would have a very large effect in climate change terms because global warming over the past 100 years has been pegged at an increase of about 0.7°C.

“The theory is that contrails suppress DTR by cooling daytime temperatures and warming night-time temperatures, so in their absence DTR increases,” says Prof Piers Forster of the UK’s University of Leeds.

The UK and German studies that incorporated contrails into their state-of-the-art climate models actually found that contrails over the USA do suppress DTR, but only by a tiny amount.

The UK study, led by Leeds University which joined forces with the Met Office within the aviation research initiative Omega, found it would take 200 times as many flights over the USA as there are today to see DTR changes approaching those suggested by the US work conducted by David Travis of the University of Wisconsin.

A further US study by research scientist Dr Gang Hong and colleagues has re-examined the temperature data for the USA, not only looking at the 2001 data but going back to earlier Septembers. They found that such 1°C changes in DTR were not uncommon and that the 2001 DTR change was most likely caused by changes in wind direction affecting low cloud cover.

Boeing nearing flight tests for all-new AH-64 engine

By Stephen Trimble

Boeing has outlined plans to integrate and test the power upgrades at the heart of the Block III upgrade programme for the US Army AH-64D Apache Longbow.

Manned-unmanned teaming and avionics improvements have been the focus over the past year of flight tests for the Block III system, the first major Apache fleet upgrade since the Longbow version was introduced about 20 years ago.

But the Block III programme is also aimed at improving the engine’s thrust by 20%. The new General Electric 701D will increase its thrust rating from 2,830shp (2,100kW) to 3,400shp.

Meanwhile, an all-new drive system, including the operational debut of a gearbox with split-torque face gear, will enable the currently limited transmission to handle the higher power levels.

Boeing is now validating in ground tests that the new face gear technology is meshing most efficiently and making refinements, says Scott Rudy, Boeing’s Apache programme manager.

The face gear checks will be quickly followed by completing bench tests on the new drive system by end-May, Rudy adds. The new transmission will be tested on a ground test vehicle in July, and finally, the new power and drive systems will be installed on a structures vehicle that arrives in the flight-test fleet in August, he says.

The army will conduct a limited user test using two Block III test vehicles starting in November, but neither will include the power upgrades. Instead the test is focused on evaluating the manned-unmanned teaming, including full control of an unmanned aircraft and sensor from the Apache cockpit.

Immediately following the limited user test, the army will begin testing Block III test vehicles that have the full package of engine and avionics improvements, Rudy says.

The Block III programme then has two years to complete development before launching its graduation exercise – the initial operational test and evaluation – in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012.

The US Congress, meanwhile, is steadily expanding the programme. The army’s initial requirement for Block III Apaches ranges from 224 to 236, but the Congress is adding up to 52 wartime replacements through FY2011 and convert four Army National Guard battalions from AH-64As to the D-model.

Boeing also believes the army has a long-term requirement to acquire nearly 400 more AH-64Ds from 2017 to 2040, raising the overall fleet to about 800 aircraft over that period.

Bombardier sees traction for Q400 multi-mission aircraft

By Mary Kirby

Bombardier is confident that a proposed multi-mission variant of its Q400 is set to propel the turboprop into use for specialised, non-airline missions.

“A lot of aerospace companies and nations are looking at Q400 multi-mission aircraft,” says David Jurkowski, Bombardier’s vice-president, government relations and sales support, specialised and amphibious aircraft.

A maritime patrol variant is promising, he says, and the Q400 is also well-suited to anti-submarine operations, fixed-wing search and rescue, utility transport and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).

Of particular relevance in North America is a maritime patrol variant of the Q400, says Derek Gilmour, Bombardier’s vice-president, sales, marketing and administration, specialised and amphibious aircraft.

Bombardier says it has held “preliminary collaboration with Canadian companies on Q400 variants” in addition to “parallel independent internal work”. Over 300 specialised Bombardier aircraft fly in more than 35 countries and smaller Q200 and Q300 aircraft are already used for maritime patrol missions.

© Bombardier

The turboprop already plays a minor role outside commercial aviation. Two former Scandinavian Airlines Q400s were acquired in 2004 from Bombardier and sold to the French department of civil defence the following year. Modification specialist Cascade Aerospace converted the aircraft into an aerial fire-control role for the French. “The Q400 water tank carries at least 20,000lb [9,080kg] of water – 10,000lb a side,” says Gilmour.

Also being targeted for non-civil use in the North American market is the Bombardier Global Express. Several highly modified versions of the business jet currently form the backbone of the Airborne Stand-off Radar (ASTOR) system delivered to the UK’s Royal Air Force by prime contractor Raytheon Systems.

“The heart of the [ASTOR] system is still the commercial aircraft. You may add radar, but it’s all in addition to the commercial aircraft,” says Gilmour, adding that both the Q400 and Global Express are now “competing in the growing specialised world market”.

Airbus 2009 order target will be a challenge: Leahy

By Max Kingsley-Jones

Airbus’s chief salesman John Leahy expects the industry’s extremely sluggish order pace to pick up as 2009 progresses, but is pessimistic about achieving the previously stated target of 300-400 orders for the full year.

The airframer has booked just 30 gross orders during the first four months of this year and Leahy concedes that “if Tom [Enders] would let me, I’d go for a lower number [than 300 orders] but I’ve got my target set so I’ve got to figure out how to get there”.

The sales pace during the first third of 2009 would suggest that Airbus could struggle to reach three digits by year-end, but Leahy says he thinks that “the rate is going to pick back up” and Airbus will exceed 100 orders.

© Airbus

However, he adds that “if you had to bet today, you’d probably bet on a lower number than 300”.

Leahy says that with both Airbus and Boeing having huge backlogs “the important thing is not how many orders we book this year, but to keep the assembly lines running smoothly through 2009 and 2010”.

He says that so far the reality of the situation in terms of cancellations is not as bad as some observers claim: “If you look at cancellations as a percentage of the backlog it really isn’t that bad. You’ve seen some reschedulings, but you don’t see that many cancellations despite the headlines from people with their own vested interests saying the sky is falling in.”