ILFC mulls over fate of its A380 order

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By Jon Ostrower

ILFC chief Steven Udvar-Hazy – once a strong proponent of the Airbus A380 – is now casting doubts on its sales prospects and hints that it could be the first customer to cancel the passenger version.

The lessor was among the launch customers for the ultra-large airliner, with an order for 10 aircraft, but Udvar-Hazy says the company is “asking ourselves if we are really going to take delivery”.

Speaking to German business weekly Wirtschaftswoche at the International Air Transport Association general meeting in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, Udvar-Hazy cited changing market dynamics and waning interest in the European super-jumbo as the factors driving the lessor’s decision-making.

ILFC is the only lessor with A380s on order, and Udvar-Hazy views the estimated $25 million cost of converting the double-decker from one airline’s specification to another as prohibitive for leasing companies.

Airbus
© Airbus

He is also concerned about the 525-seater’s ability to serve as many markets as previously expected, adding that “interest is weaker than expected, in particular among the Chinese”.

ILFC’s A380s are not due for delivery until the 2013-15 period. It says it can cancel its order without penalty before the end of June, with the option of deferring deliveries or conversion to another type also being considered.

Airbus, which has delivered 15 of the 200 A380 orders it holds from 16 customers, recently decided to slow production due to customer delivery deferrals an financing issues.

Udvar-Hazy sees this move as a threat to Airbus, saying: “If I were Airbus I would be very worried. At current production rhythms, it will be very hard to make money with this plane.”

Airbus cut 2009 deliveries from 18 to 14 A380s while next year’s plan calls for “more than 20”, but it warns that output will be “dependent on airline demand and availability of customer financing”.

Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson – who has six A380s on order – believes the current slump could have an impact on customer thinking: “In this recession, operating economics are critical. A380 operators will be questioning if they’ve got the right aircraft at the right time and whether they can make it a profitable aircraft type over the next two years,” he adds.


Legacy 600 joins London Executive Aviation fleet

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By Kate Sarsfield

UK business aircraft charter and management company London Executive Aviation has taken delivery of an Embraer Legacy 600 – the 1,100th aircraft to be produced on Embraer‘s ERJ-145 platform.

The super-midsize business jet joins three other Legacy types in the LEA charter fleet and brings to six the number of the types LEA operates.

LEA sourced the new aircraft directly from Embraer on behalf of a long-established client, an experienced Legacy 600 owner. The Legacy was delivered to LEA’s team in São Paulo. The team performed a full acceptance inspection before the transatlantic delivery flight to London Stansted via Recife and Gran Canaria. The Recife-Gran Canaria sector was covered in five-and-a-half hours.

This is the fourth occasion on which LEA has managed a factory delivery with Embraer in Brazil.

London Executive Aviation
© London Executive Aviation


A400M – Rescue mission

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By Craig Hoyle

Under original plans, this year’s Paris air show should have been a time of major celebration for Airbus Military, coming just four months before it was due to deliver its first production A400M transport to the French air force.

In reality, the €20 billion ($28.3 billion) project is running about three years late, has yet to achieve flight status, and is scrabbling to secure a commitment from its seven launch partners to continue with development activities. Now nearing the end of a three-month moratorium period that began after the nations agreed to waive a 31 March termination clause, Europe’s largest collaborative defence project could be on the brink of collapse.

Airbus Military A400M
© Airbus Military

TWO TUBULENT YEARS

The last time it was at Le Bourget, EADS-led Airbus Military maintained an optimistic front about the airlifter’s prospects, although its first flight target of early 2008 already looked sure to slip. Within months, the programme had unravelled, with much of the blame focused on the late availability of the A400M’s Europrop International TP400-D6 turboprop engines.

Underlining its troubled past two years, the programme has also undergone two leadership changes since mid-2007, most recently in February, when Domingo Ureña – an architect of Airbus’s “Power 8” restructuring programme – became its new managing director.

In a related bid to revive its fortunes, Airbus Military is now a full part of Airbus, with its transition to be complete by 1 January 2010. “It was clear that we needed to improve the way of making decisions,” says Ureña, referring to a previous disconnect between the parent company and the then-EADS Military Transport Aircraft Division. “Now there is only one fully accountable for this programme – profit and loss.”

EADS concedes that it was wrong to treat the 180-aircraft A400M deal – contracted only in May 2003 – like any other commercial Airbus programme: a key selling point of its campaign to deliver the Future Large Aircraft.

“Historically, Airbus has always performed in the same way, but with the A400M the customer was completely different, and we wanted to incorporate unprecedented technology,” says Ureña. “That has been the difficulty that industry is facing.” Vital engineering resources were also lost to the commercial demands of the A380 and A350 projects, he adds.

“We underestimated the military aspect of an aircraft like this,” says Ureña. “We underestimated the potential technological challenge in the engine side and some of the systems that we have on the plane.”

Writing in the UK’s Financial Times newspaper on 29 May to mark the 40th anniversary of Airbus’s creation, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said: “Industry must now show what contributions it is prepared to make to deliver what was promised on the A400M.”

The governments of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK should show “political courage” by keeping faith with the project, said Enders, and demonstrate “a greater degree of realism in order to enable delivery of the aircraft we all want at a sensible price”. About 40,000 European jobs depend on the project’s survival, he cautioned.

Enders also used the article to slam what he called a tendency among European military requirements for “defending diverse national requirements that offer little in terms of performance, but impact significantly on cost and deliverability”. He was referring largely to the political motivations that led to the choice of an engine involving European propulsion specialists ITP, MTU Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce and Snecma.

Some – such as France, Germany, Spain and Turkey – appear willing to back this rallying call, but the UK in particular has so far refused to agree to increase spending or cut back on contracted capabilities under the fixed-price deal. Its Ministry of Defence last month said it remained committed to the project, “but not at any cost”, and revealed it had been told the transport would make its first flight between late this year and February 2010, pushing the first UK delivery to 2013.

FLIGHT-TEST INSTRUMENTATION

Having been rolled last June in basically complete form at Airbus Military’s San Pablo site near Seville, Spain, aircraft MSN001 has now been equipped with 20t of flight-test instrumentation, including five on-board work stations. The aircraft is scheduled to go to outside test once its TP400s have been installed with their flight-standard full-authority digital engine control software, and Ureña says ground runs with the propulsion system will start in the “mid-summer”.

“Despite these unprecedented technological challenges and an unrealistic timescale, we have aircraft number one mature enough for its first flight,” says Ureña. The programme’s second aircraft achieved its power-on milestone in April, and systems testing will begin soon. The fuselage mate for the third example was due to take place in mid-May, following the arrival of the main fuselage section from Bremen, Germany.

The nations are in a difficult position, because Airbus Military says it will not be able to give them firm cost information or delivery dates until its test fleet is into a “mature” flight campaign. Also, only at this point will it be able to determine whether several of the A400M’s crucial performance goals outlined in the 1996 European Staff Requirement and May 2003 launch contract are to be met.

“We can confirm that some of the key performance of the aircraft will be according to the specification, and some will be over the specification,” says Ureña. “But they will have some shortfall in certain areas. We have certain functionalities that we don’t know how to certify, so I cannot maintain these.”

Ureña says dialogue is needed with the nations during the moratorium period to explain to them that the technology required to deliver some of the programme’s contracted elements is not currently available. “They don’t have to agree, but they need to understand, and build a new programme.”

But the Airbus Military boss denies reports that the A400M is unable to meet its payload requirements, noting there is actually no contracted maximum figure. “We have, like any aircraft, weight issues,” he confirms, but says a weight optimisation programme has already been identified for service-standard aircraft. “I believe we can maintain our commitment on payload/range [performance] as in the original contract,” Ureña insists.

Previous marketing material released by the company has described a requirement for a baseline lift capacity of 32t, falling to 25t for tactical operations. Earlier forecasts have talked of the A400M delivering a capability of 37t and 29.5t, respectively, and Airbus Military’s vice-president defence capability marketing, Peter Scoffham, confirms: “There is still margin. We would be crazy to build to the exact specification.”

Airbus hopes to have a commitment in place from the nations in time for the air show, and has pledged to continue funding development activities until year-end to give them enough time to reach a contractual agreement to complete the project.

“I am an optimistic person, and I believe we have the right product,” says Ureña. “We could take Europe with this kind of aircraft to primacy for the next 20 to 30 years in this sector. It would be unfortunate if we walk away from a programme like that.”

INDUSTRY PLAYS CATCH-UP WITH THE TP400

The propulsion system for the Airbus Military A400M has been the focus of great attention since the last Paris air show, with delays in its availability contributing to a first flight slippage of potentially two years from early 2008.

Representing one of the biggest technical challenges for the A400M programme, the 11,000shp (8,200kW) TP400-D6 is the responsibility of Europrop International (EPI) – a consortium formed of ITP, MTU Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce and Snecma.

Development work was launched in early 2004, and is now about 90% complete. Six engines have amassed more than 2,950h in bench tests, and a seventh has logged 35 flight hours in 12 sorties between last December and late May. Its 50h campaign should conclude in mid-July.

Airbus Military
© Airbus Military

“We’ve got a pretty good engine,” says EPI president Nick Durham. “Performance and weight results pretty much meet our wildest dreams.” The turboprop is operating within maximum temperature margins, meeting specified fuel consumption targets and is just 1% above its specified weight target of 1.9t, he adds.

The TP400 was theoretically ready to fly on the A400M after aircraft MSN001’s roll-out last June, but an astonishing administrative error prevented this from happening.

Speaking last month, Durham revealed that EPI realised it was unable to meet a key certification requirement by demonstrating the traceability of the TP400’s full-authority digital engine control software to European civil standards, so had to start again. “For a time we didn’t realise that we had an issue,” he says, attributing the oversight to “the pressure of the moment”.

EPI tripled the number of engineers dedicated to the project, and flight-standard FADEC software was due for delivery in mid-May. An audit of the programme is set for mid-year, with certification targeted for completion late this year.

AIRBUS INTEGRATION UNITES TRANSPORT FAMILY

Following its integration within Airbus in April, Airbus Military now also oversees the production of the light and medium transport products of the former EADS Casa, plus upgrade and tanker programmes.

The company’s San Pablo site near Seville, Spain, is dominated by its A400M final assembly line, but there is also a 14,000m² (150,700ft2) hangar to complete C-212, CN-235 and C-295 airframes.

Inaugurated in mid-January to assemble up to 24 aircraft a year, but with space to grow this to 35, the latter has increased capacity by 25% over the maximum possible using the previous build hall. Four assembly stations are used, with a fifth dedicated for modernisation activities.

Airbus Military
© Airbus Military

Portuguese air force C-295s are being assembled, and CN-235s are in build for Botswana and US company L-3 Communications. There is a backlog to build a combined five C-212s for Thailand and Vietnam, and the Czech Republic last month signed for four C-295s, to be delivered from late this year.

Work was due for completion in late May on the first maritime patrol example of the C-295 for Portugal, carrying a palletised version of the EADS Casa-developed fully integrated tactical system mission suite. The scaleable system is also being integrated on to Lockheed Martin P-3 Orions for Brazil, with its first of nine modified aircraft having flown in April.

Major activities are also occurring in the tanker sector, despite Washington’s cancellation last year of a US Air Force deal to buy modified Airbus A330-200s. The type remains EADS’s intended offering for a revived KC-X contest. Flutter testing of its advanced boom refuelling system has concluded recently.

The work was performed using Australia’s first of five A330-based multi-role tanker transports, which has also recently undergone receiver trials with a French air force Boeing KC-135 (above), and made dry contacts with a fighter using its under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods.

Meanwhile, the UK’s first of 14 A330s to be modified as Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft will soon arrive in Getafe, near Madrid, for preparation for air-to-air refuelling tasks.


Yesterday’s heroes – what next for A340 and 777 Classic?

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By Max Kingsley-Jones

Two decades ago, Airbus launched the A330/A340 as a family of twin- and quadjets to tackle the sector above and beyond its existing A300/A310 models in size and range.

Although the aircraft were originally pitched mainly against the then McDonnell Douglas MD-11 in the market to replace DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 trijets, Airbus knew that it would soon face competition from Boeing. But when the US airframer did retaliate, it was not with a 767 derivative as Airbus had expected, but with an all-new “big-twin” in the form of the 777.

And while this aircraft has gone on to become the undisputed benchmark long-range widebody (except perhaps in Toulouse), Airbus has found a gem in its A330. The twinjet’s renaissance – despite the threat of being killed off by the 787 – was confirmed last year when it was the best-selling widebody on the way to accumulating its highest-ever backlog. At more than 410 aircraft, this represents in excess of five years of production.

Boeing
© Boeing

Meanwhile, sales of the four-engined A340, which had been the lead family member at launch and was the first to enter service in 1993, have been in a downward spiral and are now all but over as the remaining aircraft orders are built at a trickle.

A similar, although less obvious, evolution has occurred to the 777 since its service debut in 1995. The original models (-200/200ER and -300), which like the A330 were all offered with a choice of all of the big three engine makers’ powerplants, have been relegated well and truly to a marginal role following the advent of the new 777 family powered exclusively by General Electric’s GE90-115 engine.

The switch has taken the 777 from being powered by engines in the 90-100,000lb thrust (400-445kN) bracket to 115,000lb.

While the firm backlog for GE90-115 777 variants (including the -200LR-based 777F) has ballooned to more than 320 aircraft, the unfilled order tally for the original models – unofficially dubbed the Classic – has declined to 25 – ie a similar amount to the current A340 total.

The A340 was Airbus’s original long-range product in the days when it did not believe the market for a twinjet of similar capability would find enough market interest due to concerns about long over-water flying. The success of the 767 and the 777 gradually changed Airbus’s view on this and it has evolved its own big twin into a strong performer.

The A330’s range development ultimately killed off the original CFM International CFM56-powered A340-300, with Airbus ironically securing its 1,000th order for the twinjet last year as the last of 246 A340-200/300s rolled off the line.

However, Airbus had retained the four-engined approach for long-range/high-capacity and ultra-long-range missions in the form of the A340-600 and -500, respectively. Equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 500s, the $2.9 billion A340-500/600 programme was launched in 1998. The new family sold reasonably well early on before Boeing finally evolved 777 variants with similar size and range capabilities – the -300ER and -200LR – which entered service in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

The arrival of these new variants of the twinjet gave Airbus a hard time in the marketplace trying to sell the A340 quad with its higher operating costs. Even Airbus’s chief salesman John Leahy admitted in 2006 to a “single-digit fuel burn penalty” over the 777, which he said could be “traded off” through financial compensation to operators. However, last year’s fuel price rises exaggerated this gap, and it was no surprise that Airbus ended 2008 having had more A340 cancellations than deliveries.

One observer with allegiances closer to the Pacific Northwest than Toulouse recently described the A340’s status as “road kill”, which Airbus rebuts, although it concedes that the glory years may be over.

“The A340 is not dead,” says Airbus head of leasing and investor marketing Mark Pearman-Wright.

Responding to a question at the ISTAT air transport conference in Phoenix during March 2009, Pearman-Wright acknowledged that the quadjet “will become a little bit more marginalised as time goes on” and that Airbus had “taken the decision to replace the A340 with the A350“.

But in the meantime “we continue to build, deliver and sell A340s”, says Alan Pardoe, A330/A340/A350 product marketing director. “People have been trying to kill the A340 for a decade, but it’s still going.”

Despite Pardoe’s enthusiasm, the fact is that Airbus delivered just 13 A340s in 2008 and although it secured six new orders, 10 contracts were cancelled or changed, leaving it with just a deficit of four aircraft for the year. Total orders for the -500/600 stand at 139 aircraft.

“The last three years have seen the 777 clobber the A340 by a 15-1 margin, leaving Airbus to ponder what could be done to save the situation,” says Richard Aboulafia, who is vice-president analysis at US consultancy Teal Group. “Higher fuel costs exacerbated the operating cost differential between the A340 and the 777,” he adds.

“The A350 XWB will make a better 777-200ER/300ER challenger than the A340. The A350 will also destroy the A340-500.”

The A340 backlog has declined to 21 aircraft, and Airbus has adjusted the output rate accordingly – it is now running at less than one aircraft a month.

Despite the slowing of the rate, Aboulafia says he expects A340 production “to end in the next two years”.

Pardoe points out that the A340 has found a niche in the VIP market, where it has been selling recently and that “there is always a need for [the A340’s] long-range hot and high capability which is worth a few aircraft [sales] a year”.

In spite of the marginal sales, Airbus continues to develop improvements for the A340. A revised belly fairing is about to be flight-tested on the A340-600 development aircraft, which will have lower drag and is “worth around 1% off the fuel burn”, says Pardoe. The upper part above the wing is “more faired”, he adds, and will be standard on new-build aircraft from the end of this year with a retrofit also available.

Airbus
© Airbus

The quadjet has also benefited from an increase in maintenance check intervals that Airbus has negotiated with regulatory authorities for the A330/A340, which Pardoe says is “worth something like a 6% reduction in airframe direct maintenance cost”. Already approved is an increase in the A check interval from 600h to 800h and structural check from 10 years to 12 years. Still pending is an extension in the C check interval from 18 to 21-24 months.

There are 242 A340-300s in service, and although Aboloufia describes the operator list as looking like “a departure board at a third world airport”, remarkably few are idle, says Edward Pieniazek, director at UK-based consultancy Ascend Worldwide.

“The A340-300 has long-range capability and ‘right-size’ credentials for many of the thinner markets. As a result the fleet has been kept busy – almost all are flying today – despite strong payload and performance competition from the 777.

“Most of the few that are parked have end-users already in place. However, the markets stability has been fragile at best, and as more A340s become available, they may become harder to place in the near future.”

One likely development as early A340-300s come up for replacement is the development of a passenger-to-freighter (PTF) conversion. Airbus’s head of freighter marketing Didier Lenormand says that a “PTF programme is being examined to sustain aircraft values”. He adds that the likelihood is that the programme would be launched in around 2014-15 when the “feedstock” for conversions starts from the passenger market.

Pieniazek concurs on the timing, but says that while the A340 has long-term freighter conversion potential “it is behind the A330 in terms of interest”.

The single biggest fleet among the mid-size widebodies is the 777, with more than 770 in service. The majority of these are the Classics (555 aircraft), but it looks likely that they will ultimately be matched or even overtaken by the new models.

“The 777 orderbook also includes nearly all of the most important airlines in the world – you could say that anyone without a 777 is either not a serious player, or Lufthansa or Qantas,” says Aboulafia.

Production of the 777 Classic is now exclusively centred on the -200ER, with the last of the 60 stretched -300s built having been delivered in 2006. But the success of the new-generation 777 models has seen the Classic take second place in terms of production. Last year just three of the 61 777s delivered were the earlier -200ER model, while the 54 orders taken in 2008 were also split heavily in favour of the new versions (41 versus 13). So unsurprisingly the Classic’s proportion of the overall 777 backlog has declined to less than 8%.

“I’m confident we will go on selling -200ERs, but we probably aren’t going to see any huge individual orders,” says Kostya Zolotusky, who is Boeing’s managing director of capital markets development.

Although the -200ER has a different structure and wing to the newer models, Zolotusky points out that production of the different variants is integrated “so it doesn’t matter which aircraft are coming through”. He adds that in fact it is better for output of the higher weight -200LR/300ER versions to be greater, as they generate more value for Boeing.

One perceived disadvantage of the new models – if you are a customer – is that unlike the earlier versions, GE is the sole-source engine supplier. However, this problem has proved far less of an issue than expected, says Aboulafia: “The GE90’s power advantage, and GE’s financial help, seem to be enough to compensate for the 777-200LR/300ER orders lost due to airlines that really wanted the R-R Trent.”

The -200LR is dimensionally identical to the -200ER, but its higher weight, more powerful engines and increased fuel tankage options give it significantly more range (Boeing quotes a maximum range with auxiliary fuel in excess of 17,300km/9,350nm). But Zolotusky refutes suggestions that this makes the -200LR a niche aircraft suitable for operators needing ultra-long-range capability for specific city-pair connections half a world apart. He points out that it is the -200LR’s impressive payload capability as much as its range that will appeal to -200ER operators: “We anticipate that two-thirds of the applications of the -200LR will be for additional payload capability from -200ER operators [rather than range].”

Ascend’s Pieniazek notes that like the A340-300, “the majority of 777-200s are flying, although some airlines are looking to scale back capacity. There are -200ERs and plain 200s on offer and available today, without much prospect of an easy placement.”

He points out that unlike the A340, the 777-200/200ER was delivered with three engine choices “which historically has increased the remarketing challenge”.

And while the big sales may be over for the -200ER, Zolotusky believes that it still has a long and healthy life ahead of it as a passenger aircraft. “The A340 is ‘the canary in the coal mine’. As long as there are A340s in service, no 777s will be put down. He adds that the 777-200ER’s advantage is recognised by appraisers as it has “a beautiful residual value performance”.

At some point a Boeing converted freighter (BCF) modification programme will become available, Zolotusky says, but nothing is imminent: “The BCF market is coming, but I don’t see this happening tomorrow because there is still demand for the passenger aircraft.”

Pieniazek sees the -200/200ER “offering good freighter potential, especially for integrators, but serious commitment is unlikely for some time. With the market struggling to absorb 777Fs, it can’t be any easier for the -200.”

In the 777/A340 stakes, Boeing seems to have had it all its own way in the battle with Airbus, but there is a threat on the horizon from Toulouse, says Aboulafia. “The A350-1000 looks potentially quite good against the 777-300ER, while the A350-900 and 787-10 will eclipse the 777-200ER/LR.”

So while the closest rival the -200ER in the near-term is the home-grown -200LR, Boeing has to be prepared for foreign competition when the A350 arrives in 2013. Anything from a 777 mid-life update, a 787-based development and an all-new 777 replacement is possible, says Zolotusky. “We’re completely undecided on 777 upgrades. We need to see what the competition is going to build first.”

What is clear is that if the A350 delivers advertised, Boeing will need to give the 777 more than a cabin refresh and a new paint scheme to stay competitive.

A330 – FROM OBSOLESCENCE TO TOAST OF TOULOUSE

For an aircraft that has been under attack from both home and abroad, the A330 appears to have an extremely bright future ahead.

Orders, backlog and output are at record levels, there is product development aplenty and new cargo and tanker variants are in production.

Few people – even among Airbus’s sales team – could have predicted such huge success a few years as the A330 appeared to face rapid technical obsolescence, initially from the rival Boeing 787 followed quickly by its new sibling, the A350 XWB.

“Some of this success has been due to heavy discounting by Airbus, but pricing is getting better due to 787 delays, and due to the strong likelihood of 787 performance shortfalls, for the first batch at least,” says Teal Group’s vice-president analysis Richard Aboulafia. “Ironically, 787 delays mean that Boeing penalty payments are helping to pay for A330s as interim capacity.”

Airbus has given the A330 a leg-up through a range boost (from 2010), which Airbus’s A330/A340/A350 product marketing director Alan Pardoe says has been a significant weapon in the battle with the 787-8: “We’ve improved the A330-200‘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.”

© Airbus

The 5t maximum take-off weight increase will be available on new-build A330-200s from September next year, providing operators with a 610km (330nm) range boost to more than 12,600km. It will also be available as a retrofit to A330-200s built from February 2004 towards the end of next year. “The increase gives us the extra range to mix with those bigger aircraft like the A340-300 and 777-200ER,” says Pardoe.

Korean Air became the first airline to commit to the 238t version with an order for six earlier this year. In lieu of the range boost, the higher weight can be used to gain an extra 3.4t of payload.

Pardoe says the enhancement will not push up the empty weight, and in fact Airbus has managed to remove around 200kg from the airframe as part of a weight-saving effort that will help counter the modifications required to comply with new centre fuel tank inerting and cabin flammability rules. “The good news is that the A330-300 does not have a centre fuel tank so does not need the inerting system,” he adds.

In parallel with the extra range, Airbus is pushing the A330’s extended twin operations clearance out from 180min to 240min “by later this year”, says Pardoe.

While the larger A330-300 was the first variant of the twinjet to be developed, it had for many years been overshadowed by the sales success of its longer-range little sister. However, product development of the larger model has boosted both its range and sales fortunes, and its orderbook is now just one sale away from 400 units. “This year we will, for the first time in many years, deliver as many if not more A330-300s than -200s,” says Pardoe.

The A330 is the platform for Airbus’s military tanker transport offerings, which have had some success in recent campaigns – although frustratingly for Airbus the USA reneged on its selection of the twinjet last year in the US Air Force KC-X competition.

The first new-build A330-200F will fly towards the end of this year and Airbus’s cargo arm is already talking about the availability of a freighter conversion programme for the A330-300 in around four to five years’ time. Airbus Military also sees the potential for ex-passenger aircraft to undergo tanker/transport conversion to supplement the new-build aircraft on offer.


Extended service

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By Jon Ostrower

With nearly 12 years of service under its belt, the Next Generation 737 is still going strong with almost 3,000 aircraft delivered, although customers are signalling a demand for Boeing to deliver greater efficiency gains.

Boeing’s immediate response is incremental improvements in performance and a new aircraft interior.

Starting in mid-2011, Boeing will introduce a package of improvements that it hopes will deliver about 2% improvement in fuel burn for customers flying long stages.

The manufacturer plans to introduce the CFM56-7B Evolution powerplant to deliver a 1% improvement in overall aircraft efficiency. Boeing will also make minor tweaks to the aerodynamics of the aircraft to contribute to a 1% improvement as well.

FlyDubai
© FlyDubai

“That’s very significant economically, often the difference between making a profit and not making a profit is 1-2%,” says Mark Bergsrud, senior vice-president for marketing programmes for Continental Airlines.

CFM will deliver the improvement by reshaping the blades and vanes of the high- and low-pressure turbines to increase airflow through the engine and reducing overall temperature, says director of CFM56 Boeing programmes Robyn Brands.

Boeing and CFM will introduce changes to the engine nozzle and plug, and remove about 9% of engine aerofoils from the high- and low-pressure turbines to reduce maintenance costs by up to 4%.

Aerodynamic changes to the aircraft include a reshaped anti-collision light, refined wing control surfaces, revised main landing-gear wheel-well fairing and a modulation of the environmental control system inlet and exhaust.

In addition to the performance enhancements, Boeing now offers its 737 Sky Interior. This features new colour-LED lighting, larger 777/787-style pivot bins, new sculpted sidewalls, revised window design, a flight attendant touchscreen panel and changes to the individual passenger reading-light panel.

Boeing also hopes to deliver a 2-4dB reduction in cabin noise. The interior improvements mark the most significant change to the 737NG cabin since its introduction with Southwest Airlines in 1998.

The weight-neutral interior will be a priced option for existing 737 customers and be a mandatory priced “option” for new customers.

Boeing
© Boeing

When Boeing announced the 737 enhancements on 28 April, seven airline launches were unveiled. New 737 operator FlyDubai will be the first to take delivery of the new interior in the fourth quarter of 2010, with Continental Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Malaysia Airlines, Tui, Gol, and Lion Air to follow as worldwide launch customers.

Boeing’s largest 737 customer, Southwest Airlines, reacted coolly to the new enhancements.

The carrier’s chief operating officer Mike van de Ven in April reiterated its desire for an major step change to Flight International‘s sister publication Commercial Aviation Online. While “appreciative of any enhancements that improve operating economics”, the airline urgently wanted to see “more game-changing innovation” of aircraft design.

“That type of innovation will require active participation with partners – specifically engine and airframe manufacturers – to achieve the technology breakthrough that improves aircraft economics in at least the 20% range,” he said.

Boeing says a 737 replacement is unlikely before 2018-20, with some industry observers thinking it could be even later, but Van de Ven is calling for “an accelerated timeline” for such an aircraft. “Narrowbody operators simply cannot sit and wait another 10-15 years for these types of improvements without some real near-term interim steps in that direction,” he says. “If re-engineering the existing airframe is a viable option that can be accomplished on a much quicker timeline, that is something that should at least be considered.”

SEPTEMBER DEADLINE FOR EVOLUTION

CFM INTERNATIONAL’S first Evolution engine will be ready in September. CFM says it is already testing Boeing’s engine nozzle improvements at its Peebles, Ohio facility.

Tests will include 150h of block trials, starting in January, that will see the engine run at maximum core speed, maximum fan speed and maximum operating temperature simultaneously – also known as triple redline – for 30h intervals.

Following each continuous 30h triple redline run, the engine will be spooled down, not shut down, then operated again under the same conditions for a total of five 30h triple redline runs. The company adds that if an engine were to achieve triple redline in service for even 20s, the US Federal Aviation Administration would require the operator to remove and overhaul it, emphasising the brutal testing to which the new Evolution engine will undergo.

CFM will flight-test the Evolution on General Electric’s Boeing 747-100 testbed in February 2010, ahead of a joint US and European certification in July 2010. Once certificated, the Evolution will be branded as the CFM56-7BE.

Boeing will use a Continental 737-800 to flight-test the changes in October 2010 ahead of certification and service entry in 2011 – when Boeing’s planned aerodynamic enhancements are also scheduled for introduction.

Southwest, whose 737s seat between 122 and 137 passengers, is not the only customer pushing both Airbus and Boeing to develop a new narrowbody offering.

Airlines are openly expressing their desire to see new narrowbody products that span the 120-seat market all the way up to 200 seats.

US Airways has begun pushing the manufacturers for a replacement to the larger Boeing 757-200, which the carrier uses extensively on international routes.

“We have asked both manufacturers to design a replacement, although that could be years away,” says Andrew Nocella, senior-vice president marketing and planning for US Airways.

In addition, KLM has already sent out a request for information on 100 aircraft for replacement, engaging proactively with Airbus and Boeing.

“We sent out a tender for 100 aircraft – it can be easily more. We want to know now exactly what will be the most likely delivery dates of these aircraft and a little bit more about the final specifications. Both sides are delaying, delaying, delaying. Now we want to have clarity,” says KLM chief executive Peter Hartman.

For Boeing, the market continues to look solid for its venerable narrowbody as it passes the 6,000th delivery, and production rates that the company believes were strategically built to weather downturns continue to deliver stability in an unpredictable marketplace.

Boeing
© Boeing

“I remain cautiously optimistic that we have the ability to build through this cycle on the 737 airplane. We continue to manage it aggressively, we continue to respond to customers requests for adjustments in schedule and to backfill any of those adjustments with pent-up demand for the product. We think that will work and we remain committed to that course,” says Scott Carson, head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Despite calls for greater gains in efficiency from airlines, one aerospace analyst believes Airbus and Boeing are inherently distracted from being locked in to a game of chicken in the narrowbody market.

Ron Epstein, analyst for Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, says Boeing remains tied up with the 787 and 747-8, while Airbus is focused on flying the A400M, achieving A380 production stability and pushing the A350 into its final design. Research and development money, as Epstein sees it, is not being put towards the narrowbody products in any significant quantity.

REFINING THE A320

Airbus executives view Boeing’s 737 refresh package more as a catch-up for their rival than a serious move to step beyond the A320 family.

“The new 737 cabin looks very nice, but it doesn’t have the extra 7in [18cm] in cabin width of the A320 and cannot offer the level of flexibility and adaptability that we have,” says A320 family product marketing director Stuart Mann. He is also hopeful Airbus can benefit from any engine improvements Boeing has rung out of the CFM International CFM56.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the fly-by-wire narrowbody’s service debut with Air France and British Airways. The 4,000th delivery is due in July and the 2,400 aircraft on backlog represent over six years of production.

Airbus
© Airbus

With Airbus confident that it will keep the A320 models rolling out of its factories for another decade and deliver at least 8,000 aircraft, there has been no let-up in its product improvement effort. A lighter, quieter cabin design was introduced in 2007, which is being supplemented by ongoing airframe weight-saving effort that is expected to trim 250kg (550lb) off A320s delivered from 2010.

An aerodynamic clean-up of areas such as the pylon and belly fairing means that A320s delivered from January 2009 have a 1% improvement in drag standard, says Mann. “That means reducing our fuel burn and, of course, has beneficial effect on emissions and the environment.”

A significant A320 development that has just received approval is an optional 1t increase in maximum take-off weight from a software upgrade to the flight-control system, which is retrofitable to aircraft that are up to around seven years of age.

“We’ve incorporated a newly designed load alleviation function in the fly-by-wire software which has allowed us to add a 1t take-off weight increase with no structural changes,” says Mann. “That means there is no empty weight increase and no maintenance cost increase.”

The software uses the flight controls to reduce the wing bending moment, which allows the aircraft to operate at higher loads. Initial approval is for the International Aero Engines V2500-powered version, as this is the variant operated by the upgrade’s launch customer US carrier JetBlue. Approval for the CFM56 variant is to follow. The higher weight provides around 280km (150nm) additional range or a payload increase equivalent to 10 passengers.

Airbus
© Airbus

Mann says the modification, which requires a software upgrade to the elevator and aileron control computer, can be applied to A320s from MSN1903 (a 2002 delivered aircraft), which is the first to incorporate a required structural reinforcement of the horizontal stabiliser.

Another recent initiative has been Airbus’s “extended service goal” programme that should see a trebling in airframe fatigue life approved in October 2012. “We are also further extending the maintenance intervals on the aircraft to reduce costs,” says Mann.

Like its US rival, Airbus has made use of improvements developed by its engine suppliers. The upgrades – CFM’s Tech Insertion and IAE’s SelectOne – offer slight improvements in fuel burn, on-wing time and maintenance costs.

But Boeing has raised the bar again, following the agreement with CFM to introduce its “Evolution” upgrade on the 737’s CFM56-7 engine, and Airbus has already began talks to see if it can leverage any improvements for the A320’s CFM56-5.

“We’re talking with CFM. We must get a clear view of what’s transferable, what percentage will come across,” says Mann. He adds that the earliest impressions suggest Airbus could use “about half the advantages” of the Evolution engine in the CFM56-5, primarily from the core area.

Airbus/Tim Bicheno-Brown
© Airbus/Tim Bicheno-Brown

Despite Airbus’s long-running interest in Pratt & Whitney’s GTF geared turbofan demonstrator, which included a flight evaluation last year, Mann plays down the likelihood of a GTF-powered A320 development. “We’re still working with P&W to understand the results [of the flight-test], but we do not have a programme to install the engine on the A320,” he says, adding that the GTF test was part of Airbus’s research into potential engine technology for the next single-aisle family.

Possibly one of the most innovative uses of an A320 family member will begin later this year when British Airways inaugurates transatlantic services from London City airport to New York with an A318.

“It was a challenge getting approval to operate into London City,” says Mann. “We have a button in the overhead panel which changes the flight controls to allow the aircraft to have a different aerodynamic braking system as it lands. It also changes all the call-outs with a ‘standby, standby, flare’ to ease the landing process.”

Although it completed another round of winglet test flights earlier this year – this time of a design developed by Aviation Partners – Airbus is yet to decide whether to pursue a programme. “We’re evaluating what we’ve learnt and to define a programme going forward,” Mann says, adding that a conclusion should be reached in the near future.


Gol exits the Lima market

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By Brendan Sobie

Brazil’s Gol is further shrinking its international network with the elimination of all service to Peru.

The low-cost carrier says in a brief statement today that its last flight to the Peruvian capital Lima will operate on 17 June. According to Innovata, Gol currently operates one daily Boeing 737-800 flight to Peru on a Porto Alegre-Buenos Aires-Santiago-Lima routing.

While the Santiago-Lima leg will be terminated, Gol will continue to fly from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil to Santiago via Buenos Aires.

Gol previously served Lima from both Santiago as well as from its main hub in Sao Paulo. But its Sao Paulo-Lima service was dropped last year.

Once Peru is erased from the map next week, Gol will be left with only six countries in its international network – Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Over the last year Gol’s network has shrunk significantly as all long-haul and some medium-haul services have been axed. Gol has instead been focusing on expanding its international offering by forging a series of new codeshares and interline agreements with foreign carriers.

Gol says the decision to drop Lima was made “to better adopt its route network”.

The carrier has been facing stiff competition from Lan and TACA on the Santiago-Lima route. According to Innovata, Lan, which is based in Chile and has an affiliate in Peru, operates five daily non-stop flights on the route. TACA, which is based in El Salvador but has an affiliate in Peru, operates one daily flight on the route.

Gol began connecting Santiago with both Lima and Buenos Aires in 2006 as part of a bid to bolster its intra-Latin American network. Santiago-Lima is one of only a few fifth freedom routes operated by the carrier.