Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into Cochin from Delhi on Indian Air Force One, operated by an Indian Air Force Boeing 737-700 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) with tail number K5014. The way in which the airplane was flown was interesting, and different from the way in which a similar aircraft operating for a scheduled airline is flown. We compare the way in which the military 737 was flown, with the way in which a commercial 737-800 was flown on the same route.
The 737-700BBJ’s lateral flight path is compared with the lateral flight path of a Boeing 737-800 VT-SZA operated by SpiceJet today on Delhi-Cochin as SG 561. What stands out is that the flight path of the military 737 is curvy, and not straight unlike the SpiceJet 737, strongly indicating that the flight was manually controlled, either by being hand flown throughout or by manual heading inputs to the autopilot. It does point to neither the autopilot’s VOR/LOC function, nor the FMS-controlled lateral navigation being used.
The vertical flight path shows that the Prime Minister’s flight (image on the left shows Him beside the 737 at Cochin) was not optimized for fuel burn. The aircraft climbed to 31,000ft (odd level altitude) when headed in the easterly direction, and as it changed direction over Hyderabad to a westerly direction, the aircraft descended to 30,000ft (even altitude). A BBJ, usually being light, can fly much higher than 31,000ft. The optimum altitude for an airplane gets higher as it gets lighter, and it could have step climbed rather than step-descended over Hyderabad.
The SpiceJet 737, in contrast, flew at 37,000ft till over Hyderabad. By then, the airplane was lighter, having burnt most of the flight’s trip fuel. Over Hyderabad, when turning towards Cochin, it step climbed to 38,000ft – just as one would expect for optimal fuel burn.
A valid argument would be the winds at altitudes that could have impacted the military 737’s decision to fly at a lower altitude. The SpiceJet flight and the military 737 flight were 5 hours apart. However, IndiGo’s VT-IEM operating 6E 289 DEL-COK took off just 28 minutes after the Air Force 737, climbed to 35,000ft and then to 36,000ft over Hyderabad. IndiGo’s aircraft in fact picked up 13 minutes enroute, to land just about 15 minutes after the Air Force 737, clearly showing that winds at higher altitude were not unfavourable.
The intent of this piece isn’t to highlight who flies better, but rather to appreciate some of the differences between air transport flights in the military and in the commercial world. Vastly different priorities may explain the differences in flying. In the airline world though, it is all about minimising costs at every little opportunity.
SpiceJet’s Boeing 737-800 MSN 37366 earlier registered as VT-SGU had entered storage in the July of 2014. The aircraft, leased from BBAM, was recently painted in the colors of Pegasus Airlines, and will soon be flown off from Hyderabad Shamshabad to operate for the Turkish airline.
A very significant number of SpiceJet’s Boeing 737s were leased from BBAM, most of which have been returned to the lessor. BBAM, which began as Babcock & Brown Aircraft Management remains the largest lessor for SpiceJet, with five aircraft – VT SGG/SGH/SGV & SGQ – all four Boeing 737-800s, and VT-SPU – a Boeing 737-900.
Recent media reports pointed to BBAM taking SpiceJet to court for the de-registration of the five 737s. The airline issued a statement on 25th March ststing, “Discussions have been ongoing with the lessors for an amicable settlement.SpiceJetfully expects the matter will be resolved shortly and positively with the lessors, and there will be no grounding of aircraft or disruption of operations.”
All five BBAM aircraft are still operating flights for the airline.
SpiceJet today flies an active fleet of 17 Boeing 737s, which includes only one 737-900 leased from BBAM. The other lessors are Air Lease Corporation (ALC), Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services (AWAS), Bank of China Aviation (BOC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and Mitsubishi Corporation Aviation Partners (MCAP).
SpiceJet owns all its fifteen Bombardier Q400s.
GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), another prominent lessor, had towards the end 2014 pulled out its five Boeing 737s, four of which are parked at Seletar Airport, Singapore- VT-SZE/F/G/H, all of which have been de-registered.
As per the airline’s statement on the 20th of March, 2015, “SpiceJet is also in the process of adding more aircraft to the fleet and expects to add 8-9 Boeings starting in April to take the active Boeing fleet to 25-26 aircraft in the summer, in addition to the 15 Bombardier Q400 aircraft that are owned by SpiceJet. SpiceJet will continue to add more aircraft in the second half of the year to take the Boeing fleet up to 34-35 aircraft by the end of the year.”
It is believed that some of the 737s to come will be wet leased.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s the day of hearts, and the evening prior, FirstFlight delivered am almost 2 foot long box that had a photo of a SpiceJet aircraft on the side. The wait was over – VT-SZK ‘With all our heart’ was finally home, from SpiceShop, manufactured by Skymarks to a 1:100 scale.
Inside the box were layers of black foam that carefully housed in all eight parts – The 15 inch long fuselage with the nose gear pre-fitted, both wings with the engines and min gears pre-fitted, the two horizontal stabilizer pieces, the vertical tail, a wooden base stand, and a securing screw. It couldn’t get simpler. All pieces were were packed in plastic save the rudder and the horizontal stabs, which had made their way to the bottom of the box, where it may be prone to damage.
Assembly took just a minute, as all parts are snap fit and firmly stay in place.
From the stand, up!
The stand for the model is made of two parts – a wooden base with a polished metallic plaque bearing the SpiceJet logo, the aircraft name ‘Red Chilli’, the aircraft model, registration, and the month and year it was delivered to SpiceJet. A matt finished aluminum support is secured to the wooden base via to screws, which were loose. You’d need a star (~ez_lsquo+ez_rsquo~) screwdriver to tighten the screws, to prevent your model from wobbling with fake turbulence on the table. The support is keyed to align the hole on the support with the threaded hole at the bottom of the model’s fuselage. Slight alignment is necessary before the securing screw can be inserted.
VT-SZK was delivered to SpiceJet in May 2014, is leased from BOC Aviation, and is the airline’s prized airplane for many reasons. It finds a special place in the heart of perhaps all its employees for the singluar reason that it is the only airplane in the fleet to have an off-beat livery. The forward fuselage features three crew on either side. On the left is a lady captain flanked by two lady cabin crew, and on the right is a male captain flanked by two other lady cabin crew. The featured crew are: Capt. K. Rangarajan, Captain and Examiner, Boeing 737. Capt. Anushree Varma, Captain, Boeing 737, CCIC Roshika Chettri, CCIC Rashmani Singh, CCIC Prexa Kaushik, CC Lavi Choudhary.
The aft fuselage of the real aircraft is stickered ‘SpiceJet’ on the left, and ‘With All Our Heart’ on the right. Perfect for valentine’s?
1:100 – How scale is the model?
The measuring tape determined the length of the fuselage to be approximately 15 inches. We say approximately because a collector would never get a hard surface to contact the fuselage, for fear fo damage to the decals. The real 737-800 has an overall length (nose to the trailing tip of the horizontal stabilizers) of 1,554 inches. 1,544 / 100 (scale) = 15.44 inches. Yup, the model passes the scale test. Since the wings, engines, and tails appeared proportional, we took the scale on all axes for granted.
The most important aspect of any model airplane is the nose. Just as a human is identified by the face, and not the body, an airplane is only a scale model is its nose appears exactly like the real aircraft. Skymarks has got it right here. The model passes the major tests.
We shall progress from the nose to the tail, and examine every aspect.
The nose is simply great – it couldn’t have been more ‘737’ like. The nose bay doors’ lower edge are curved, which is unlike the real aircraft (straight). The wheels are proportional, but do not move easily.
The faces on the fuselage are a little bigger than what they should have been. This can be identified by the location of the face of the first cabin crew relative to the static port (the oval under the third passenger window). The ‘missing windows’ on the 737-8000 are reproduced here – two missing on the left, one on the right (to accommodate air conditioning ducts).
The fuselage very clearly shows the line where the ‘double bubbles’ meet (the 737’s fuselage cross section is comprised of two intersecting circles)- see the image on the left with the red arrow, pointing to a visible dent line. Although nowhere this pronounced on the real 737, it allows one to appreciate the 737’s fuselage design.
As we progress to the engines, we hit a pocket of disappointment. The engines that Skymarks has used are the Boeing 737- classic (300/400/500) engines, which have the ‘hamster pouch’ look – flattened bottom with a non-circular nacelle. The Boeing 737NGs have an almost circular nacelle. The engine fails the scale test big time. Further, the exhaust nozzle is also long. VT-SZK uses CFM 56-7BE engines, which have a shorter nozzle.
The detailing on the wing is good, complete with the walk zones, flap track fairings, and emergency exit markings. The double slotted flaps, spoilers, and ailerons with aileron tabs are marked on the upper surface. The fuel tank access panels are also marked on the lower surface.
The red ‘paint’ on the outer portion of the winglet should have run further under the surface of the winglet.
The main landing gears are simple, but the tyres are good. The model would have been more of a scale had they the white wheel caps as found on SZK. The wheel wells could have been painted black for higher level of detailing.
The stabilizer and the vertical tail plane are both well detailed, complete with the trim markings (trim markings are not symmetric and so it should have been on the model). The APU inlet door, and APU exhaust are marked.
SpiceJet is the only airline in India to sell 1:100 models of its aircraft (though not on board their flights, but through their website), which is a big plus. The finish of the Skymarks 737-800 is overall good, but could be better with more detailing, such as fine print text near the statics. It is definitely a model for the collector, but does disappoint a bit when it comes to certain details. Hogan’s eye for detail is much better (Example: IndiGo’s A320 ‘Premium model’ sold on board), but then, they do not offer this large a scale.
On the pricing front, the Boeing 737 1:100 is available for INR 9,499 + 13.125% tax + INR 500 shipping = INR 11,246. On airlinemuseum, Skymarks 737-800s are available or US$95, which translates to INR 5,900. Add customs and freight, and the model’s price comes close to SpiceJet’s price, perhaps cheaper by a thousand or two (or three?). But SpiceJet’s price is justified by the limited edition of its infamous aircraft.
In short – a lovely airplane model, largely faithful to the 1:100 scale, and with a finish and color accuracy that is bound to catch eyes and make you stare speechlessly – with all (y)our heart! Must have for a serious model collector.
Boeing yesterday delivered its 8000th 737-a 737-900ER-to United Airlines, marking yet another milestone for the world’s most sold large jetliner, which has cumulative orders for 11,774 Boeing 737 airplanes, since the time the program was conceptualised in 1964, across its airline, business and military offerings.
Boeing, which was initially skeptical about the aircraft’s sales, and reportedly had plans to cancel the program, was convinced by Lufthansa to go ahead with the aircraft type. That decision proved a commercial success for the airframer, encouraging the continuation of the production line, across 12 significant variants spread across 4 sub-families: the Originals (-100,-200), Classics (-300,-400,-500), Next-Generation (-600,-700,800,900), and MAX (MAX 7, MAX 8, MAX 9) families.
Boeing 737 produced
28 Dec 1967
22 Dec 1983
25 Feb 1991
27 Feb 1998
19 Jun 2006 (Silent)
13 Feb 2006
ILFC/ Norwegian Air Shuttle
16 Apr 2009
16 Dec 2011
16 Feb 2014
The first Boeing 737, a 737-100 flew on 9th April, 1967. The first production 737, a 737-100, was delivered to Lufthansa in late 1967.
The 737 family, the smallest among all original Boeing designs, earned itself famous nicknames, including Tin Mouse, Baby Boeing, and Fat Albert.
Boeing’s successful narrowbody airplane started facing stiff competition almost 20 years later, from Airbus, when the European airframer introduced the Airbus A320 family of airplanes. The then significantly more efficient aircraft prompted Boeing to introduce the Next Generation family of the 737, almost a decade later. The biggest change to the 737NG, over the Originals and Classics, is a significantly improved wing, which helped Boeing match the Airbus A320’s operational economics. Other changes included an updated cabin and cockpit. The changes were deemed significant enough to have a new set of manufacturer line numbers for all Boeing 737NGs produced, abruptly interrupting the numbering with the last produced 737-Classic at line number 3132.
The first airline to receive the 4000th 737 – which was the first thousandth 737 delivered after this line number change, and the first such 737NG – was Air Algerie. Unlike other recent thousandth deliveries, this was mysteriously done without any publicity or fanfare.
Stiff competition between the two manufacturers has led to significant continuous product improvements targeting lower operational costs, which include the winglets for the 737NG, the “Sharklets” for the A320 family, “Scimitar” Winglets for the 737NG, and re-engining for the significantly more fuel efficient A320NEO and 737MAX families.
United Airlines, which received the 8000th 737, is also the first airline to fit the “Scimitar” Winglets from Aviation Partners Boeing, making the 737NG series realise close to 1.5% fuel burn reduction. Such winglets will eventually be factory fitted on Boeing 737NG airplanes, making the 737 the only commercial jetliner in production to feature such unique winglets.
737 order Breakup
The highest demand has been for the maximum-189 seat Boeing 737-800, which competes directly with the Airbus A320.
As of 31st March 2014, there are 3794 unfulfilled Boeing 737 orders. Boeing presently produces the 737NG at 42 airplanes a month, or 504 airplanes a year. That rate is scheduled to ramp up to scheduled 47 airplanes a month in 2017-the same year the 737 MAX is expected to enter service. About 1,700 737NG airplanes are expected to be produced at this rate, with the balance 160 737NG and 1934 737MAX produced at 564 airplanes a year, completing the orders as they stand today, only in early year 2021.
In contrast, Airbus has 4,247 unfulfilled Airbus A320 family orders, as of 31st March 2014, which is impressive for a program that started 20 years later, today grabbing the largest market share of the narrowbody airliner market. Airbus produces airplanes at the rate of 42 a month, across its three final assembly lines in France, Germany, and China, with another in the United States set to open, shortly.
Airbus’ first A320NEO, MSN 6101 (A320-271N) has entered the final assembly line (FAL) at Toulouse, marking yet another milestone in the A320NEO program. The forward fuselage, which arrived from St. Nazaire in France, and the aft fuselage, which arrived from Hamburg in Germany, were mated at the FAL, marking the start of the final assembly.
The next stage is the joining of the wing to the fuselage. Overall, it takes about one month to complete the final assembly of an A320 Family aircraft.
The A320 program crossed a major milestone in November 2013, when the assembly of the first major component- the engine pylon- took place.
First flight is expected in the Autumn of 2014, almost 4 years after the program was launched in December 2010. Airbus took the landmark decision of re-engining the A320 Family after sensing imminent competition from Bombardier’s C-Series airplanes.
Airbus will retain 95% airframe commonality with the present A320, offering the benefit of high dispatch reliability associated with a mature airframe. Airbus has also effected incremental changes to its traditional Airbus A320, thereby eliminating the risks associated with too many modifications in one shot.
In the November of 2011, Airbus flew the first A320 with the version of the sharklets that are now seen on all new production Airbus A320 airplanes, first sharklet-equipped A320 being MSN 5428 delivered in December 2012. The sharklets, which will feature on the A320NEO as well, introduce fuel savings of upto 4% on long flights. Preliminary wing strengthening to handle the aerodynamic loads introduced by the sharklets, and airplane-wide weight reduction to offset the weight due to the strengthening have already been effected.
NEO’s difference from today’s in-production A320 aircraft is the further strengthening of the wing and fuselage to handle the loads associated with the heavier and larger New Engine Option (NEO): The Pratt and Whitney PW1100G and the CFM LEAP-1A. The new more efficient engine together with the sharklets realize a 15% fuel savings on 800nm route lengths, and up to 16%+ on the longer routes, compared to non-sharklet fitted Airbus A320 aircraft.
The Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbofan Engine PW1100G series for the A320, took to the skies in May 2013, on a Pratt and Whitney Boeing 747SP flying test bed.
Changes to the A320 are minimal and the least among other airplanes which are being re-engined and modified to a larger extent, such as the Boeing 737MAX and the Embraer Second Generation E-Jets E2. Historically, all new airplane programs have been met with significant dispatch reliability issues related to technical or maintenance issues associated with an immature airframe. The A320NEO program has the least changes, followed by the MAX and E2 program. The all-new Bombardier C-Series introduces many firsts for Bombardier, making it the program that may likely have the most number of issues, initially atleast: a reason which explains the low number of firm orders: 201, despite having 3 flying airplanes in the test campaign.
In contrast, the Embraer E-Jet E2 program, which airplanes are still “paper” (conceptual), has 200 firm orders. The Boeing 737MAX has 1,807 firm orders and the Airbus A320NEO program has firm orders for 2,667 airplanes.
Least changes with benefits where it matters to an already proven and mature airframe, incremental modifications, early introduction into service (Q4 2015), a dual engine source (all other new/re-engine programs have only one engine supplier), keeping up program development schedule, and the smallest training impact have contributed in large to the sales success of the program.
IndiGo has an order for 180 Airbus A320NEO Family aircraft, which include the A320NEO and A321 NEO. Go Air has 72 airplanes on order, and Air Asia 264 A320NEOs on order. Both IndiGo and GoAir’s A320NEOs will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G. IndiGo operates the IAE engines, of which Pratt and Whitney is a part. Go Air which flies CFM powered A320 aircraft, has switched engine suppliers, to Pratt and Whitney. The PW1100G engines offer two advantages: Room for growth, and availability sooner than the CFM LEAP-1A Engines. Air Asia, which flies CFM powered A320s, has opted for the CFM LEAP-1A to power its NEOs.
Very rarely do few lucky aircrew get to experience something off-beat. For India Aviation 2014, Air India’s second newest Boeing 787-837, MSN 36279, registered VT-ANB, had to be positioned at Hyderabad Begumpet (ICAO: VOHY) from Hyderabad Shamshabad (ICAO: VOHS) on 11th March 2014. Below is the short hop, described.
VT-ANB operated as Air India AI 555, a revenue flight from Delhi (VIDP) to Hyderabad (VOHS), with the Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of the airline, Rohit Nandan on board. In total, 115 passengers and 11 crew flew on ANB to Hyderabad.
After landing, ANB was towed from bay 54 to 58, for “deep cleaning”. The aircraft was delivered to the airline on 31st January 2014, and the one month of use needed to be cleaned out.
After spending 01:35 (1hr 35 min) on ground, VT-ANB was ready to fly to VOHY with the same flight deck crew, but with just one cabin crew, raising the total persons on board to 3.
The aircraft had fuel from the previous sector in its tanks: a massive 12.2 tonnes. The aircraft had a take off weight of just 127 tonnes, against 227.9 tonnes maximum take off weight.
Taxi Out VOHS
The crew pushed back from bay 58 at 14:10UTC (19:40 local), and taxied to the runway in use: 09R. The CG (Centre of Gravity) of the aircraft was at 19.1% MAC (mean Aerodynamic Chord), and the trim was set to 4.75 units. Flaps were extended to 5 degrees, and for the purposes of setting thrust, an assumed temperature of 42 degrees C and a derate of 83% was applied. The FMS was left as a flight plan discontinuity, as radar vectors were expected to VOHY.
The crew lined up on 09R, and applied take off power. The FMA (Flight Mode Annunciators) read TOGA-TOGA, and no VNAV and LNAV. At 133 knots, which was the Vr (rotate speed), the pilot flying gently pulled back on the control column, and at 14:29 UTC (19:59 local), VT-ANB was airborne.
Flight Path, VOHS/VOHY
Autopilot was engaged at 300ft RA (Radio Altimeter), and the aircraft maintained runway heading for about 2NM (nautical miles), before receiving radar vectors. VOHS is at an elevation of 2,000ft, and VT-ANB was climbed to 4,600ft. The aircraft was further vectored left by ATC, and asked if the crew could accept an ILS runway 27 approach for VOHY. The original plan was for a VORDME 09 approach into VOHY, but the crew confirmed their ability to fly into runway 27.
VT-ANB was made to descend to 3,600ft, and at 10NM from touchdown, intercepted the localiser for runway 27 VOHY. Autopilot was disconnected at 1,100ft RA. Flaps were taken in steps to 30 degrees, the approach speed maintained at 133kts, and autobrakes set to level 3.
The Boeing 787 touched down at 14:40 UTC (20:10 local), and felt extremely light when flaring. Reversers were deployed, and the aircraft slowed down, making a 180 degree turn at the end of runway 27 to backtrack towards taxiway “A”, as directed by Begumpet tower.
VT-ANB took a graceful right turn at 3-4kts taxi speed onto taxiway A, where it was welcomed with a water canon salute. Continuing its taxi, the Dreamliner turned right onto the Apron, where she was marshaled to her parking stand,. Parking brakes were applied at 14:50 UTC (20:20 local), and the short hop had consumed 1.3 tonnes of aviation turbine fuel (ATF).
Airplanes on display; Modest display by the small number of international exhibitors; Civil Aviation Minister talks of robustness and reforms; Same ministry’s DGCA is responsible for the delay in Air Asia’s ferry flight.
The photo above shows you how many airplanes were present at the show. There are only two wide bodies, essentially representatives of Boeing and Airbus, and the business-jet-segment representatives of Bombardier and Embraer. Beechcraft, which abandoned the “Hawker” in its earlier name “Hawker-Beechcraft”, after deciding to abandon the jet segment and focus on turboprops, and which was recently bought over by Textron, the parent company of Cessna, had three turboprop representatives at the show, from the Kingair line: B250, B350, and C90. Cessna had its Citation 560XL, Gulfstream brought in its G150 and G650, Bombardier its Challenger 605, Piaggio Aero its Avanti, Embraer its Phenom 100, Legacy 650, and Lineage 1000, Dassault its Falcon 7X, Airbus and Emirates their A380, and Boeing its 787. GMR-APFT, the new Hyderabad based flight school, positioned their Diamond DA-40D fitted with a diesel engine, and the UK based Mark Jefferies Air Shows and Display Aerobatics’ two Extra 330SC and 300L aircraft.
Few aircraft, including helicopters, did not turn up after the exhibitors decided not to participate in the airshow.
In total? Just 17 civil aircraft present for a country with the world’s second largest population and in a region with phenomenal aviation growth, at the 4th International Exhibition & Conference on Civil Aviation- India Aviation 2014.
Just one order marked the highlight of the day: SpiceJet and Boeing, which had for long dragged the decision to announce the airline’s purchase of 42 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, finally went public with the US$4.4 Billion worth order, pegging the price of each 737 MAX 8 at US$ 104.7M. The 737 MAX’s first flight is scheduled in 2016 with deliveries to customers beginning in 2017. SpiceJet is to receive 17 Boeing 737-800s directly from Boeing, in addition to the order for 737 MAX 8s.
Jet Airways’ order for the Boeing 737 MAX has yet to be announced.
Ajit Singh, Minister for Civil Aviation, stated in his speech at the show, “….is happening at the time when Indian Aviation is witnessing several policy changes and reforms to provide a robust aviation sector.” It is unclear whether the robustness was in reference to protecting existing players (airlines) from competition, or referring to a system that simply does not exist, evidenced by the FAA’s downgrade of the Indian DGCA.
Air Asia India, which was to have ferried its first Airbus A320 to India, today, has postponed the flight by a few days due to certain issues with the DGCA, invalidating the claims of the aviation minister.
The minster also went on to say, ” Civil aviation in India has been scripting a major success story due to progressive policies of the Government”, and that, “commercial fleet size is expected to grow from 400 today to 1000 aircraft by 2020”. There was no reference made to general aviation.
The same progressive Civil Aviation department did not permit few composite airplanes from flying into the show.
Only 26 International Exhibitors are present at the show, most with extremely modest presences.
Edit: Boeing 737 Max unit price corrected; A380 operator corrected.
A350 MSN 2 (F-WWCF) and MSN 4 (F-WZNW) in flight. Photo: Airbus
MSN 2 & MSN 4 take to the skies for the first time; A350 performance penalties on the first few airplanes; Timelines more important than performance; A350 program gets costlier:why; A320 production ramp up.
Today marks four things: The Airbus Group press conference, the first flight of MSN2, the first flight of MSN4, and the Airbus announcement of the Airbus A320 production ramp-up.
On 2nd January, 2014, EADS, which comprised Airbus, Eurocopter, Cassidian, and Astrium, was been rebranded as “Airbus Group". The Airbus Group press conference must not be confused with the Airbus press conference, which was held on 13th January, 2014. But, very obviously, Airbus was discussed today.
Aviation Week today reported that “Airbus Group is taking a €434 million extraordinary charge in its 2013 results for the A350 program" due to “higher than expected recurring costs for the new widebody aircraft". Airbus, unlike Bombardier: the only other airliner airframer to be engaged in a flight test campaign of an all-new aircraft, has ensured that the program has stuck to schedule, at any cost. And that cost, for now, is an added Euro 434M.
A very interesting insight provided in an article in Aviation Week, in August 2012, which was highlighted today by Rupa Haria, quoted Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, “If you are missing important milestones, you get beaten up by the financial markets or your customers. . . . You want to meet time guarantees more than performance guarantees."
In other words, the first few airplanes won’t be as good as those that will roll out of the line later.
Which also means that the Airbus A350 airplanes that took to the skies today, F-WWCF(MSN2) and F-WZNW(MSN4), could have benefitted from the later roll out at a cost: the cost to Airbus and its suppliers, who have to manufacture different variants of the same part, for the sake of keeping up with the program schedule. Different variants are due to part/product maturity which comes eventually with time. The most important reason for maturing the part is to result in weight savings, which impact the performance guarantees that Richard Aboulafia was talking about. The financial implications arising out of these performance penalties incurred by the first few operators of the A350, will be passed on to Airbus. This also affects the resale value of the first few aircraft, even with modifications that will be effected on the aircraft in service.
Such relatively immature aircraft, very obviously, come cheap to the airlines, but attract higher subsequent costs of ownership.
According to Aviation Week, there will be three batches of Airbus A350s, based on the design changes, and consequently, performance.
F-WWCF is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage. Hence the registration, F-WW"CF", for Carbon Fibre.
MSN 2 will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers" will be Airbus employees. The eye-candy A350 will do well for promotions, especially when it lands at airports outside Toulouse, and even Europe.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 4 joins MSN 1 and 3, the first two airplanes to have taken to the skies, in being those three airplanes dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation. The aircraft has on its fuselage the logo of Qatar Airways, and “A350 XWB Launch Customer".
It will, however, only be MSN 6 which will be delivered to Qatar Airways. MSN 6 is already in the A350 Final Assembly Line (FAL). This aircraft is expected to take to the skies in the October of 2014, and delivered less than a month later.
Composite image generated from Flight Radar 24
Singapore Airlines will receive MSN 8, the third aircraft intended for commercial operations. Vietnam Airlines will receive MSN 14, and Finnair MSN 18. The 21st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-800, and the 41st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-1000.
MSN 2 and MSN 4 flew together in formation close to the southern border of France, over the Pyrenees mountains, for a photo shoot.
A320s in production. Photo: Airbus
While one program bleeds the finances, the proven narrowbody family: a proven market that allows airliner manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to not only earn their bread but offset costs from other programs.
The A320 program is ramping up production, as announced today by Airbus, to 46 a month in Q2 2016, up from the current rate 42. The new higher production rate will be achieved gradually, with an intermediate step at 44 aircraft per month in Q1 2016.
“Based on the healthy market outlook for our best-selling A320 Family and following a comprehensive assessment of our supply chain’s readiness to ramp-up, we are ready to go to rate 46 by Q2 2016," said Tom Williams, Executive Vice President Programmes. “With a record backlog of over 4,200 A320 Family aircraft and the growing success of the NEO, we have a solid case to increase our monthly output to satisfy our customers’ requirement for more of our fuel efficient aircraft."
Over the past five years, Airbus has steadily increased A320 Family production, going from rate 36 at the end of 2010 to rate 38 in August 2011, then up to rate 40 in Q1 2012 to reach 42 per month in Q4 of the same year.
This piece covers Boeing’s slipping grip on the low-cost airline market, with a focus on Asia: how, why, and where.
Air Asia, and EasyJet, operators of Airbus A320 airplanes, were once Boeing 737 operators. Airbus has been on a “rampage", trying to trespass Boeing’s narrowbody territory, and plant what is today the world’s best selling airplane family.
Air Asia, which until as recently as 2010 operated Boeing 737-300 aircraft, is now an all Airbus A320 operator: operating 73 of them. Air Asia Indonesia, which also operated Boeing 737-300s, now flies 30 Airbus A320 airplanes. Lion Air of Indonesia, which operates 99 Boeing 737 aircraft, most of which are 737NG airplanes, placed a firm order for 234 Airbus A320 aircraft, including 60 Airbus A320 classic engine option airplanes. Garuda Citilink, established in 2001 as a low-cost subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, which operated an all Boeing 737-300 and 400 fleet, now flies 24, more efficient Airbus A320s with the callsign “Supergreen".
Jet Airways has evaluated Airbus A320NEOs, and Neil Mills, the then CEO of SpiceJet, publicly announced the evaluation of a fleet switch to the A320NEO.
Boeing’s comeback: an order of 54 Boeing 737s, comprising 23 737-800s and 31 737 Max 8s from SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, which welcomed its first Boeing 737-800 (9V-MGA) at the Singapore Airshow 2014, marking the start of SilkAir’s transition to an all-Boeing fleet, from the existing fleet of 24 Airbus aircraft, comprising 6 A319s and 18 A320s. (see photo on top)
After SilkAir, Boeing is now trying to sway TigerAir to adopt its airplanes.
How: Airbus’s Successes.
Said Dinesh Keshkar, vice president, Asia-Pacific & India Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in February 2013, after Spicejet and Jet Airways performed financially better, (after the demise of Kingfisher), “Can they sustain these yields, which I think they can because of the balance of capacity in the market. They will continue to do well and aviation will continue to grow profitably. The Indian commercial aviation market is improving with higher yields and stability in fuel charges".
The same Keshkar in February 2014 admitted that Indian carriers are “not doing well” due to the decline in the rupee, high fuel costs, and high capital costs and taxes in India. “Certainly the Indian market is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard to make money there. Nevertheless, everybody realizes that it’s a great market and that’s why more and more people are trying to get into that market."
Said Kiran Rao, executive vice president for strategy at Airbus, in January 2013, “It’s quite understandable that with the high fuel prices and the Indian taxes, the neo really works in India,” he says. “Jet Airways and Spicejet are predominately Boeing airlines today, but we will give it a good shot.”
Two things make the Airbus A320NEO attractive: Great operating economics, and its availability atleast 2 years before the Boeing 737MAX. That gives operators the chance to start reaping the benefits of an economical airplane two years before its competition, and that amounts to saving big money.
To put things in perspective, final assembly for the first Airbus A320NEO will start in March 2014, for the planned maiden flight in autumn, kicking off a flight-test campaign with 8 Airbus A320NEO airplanes, all flying with PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engines. In contrast, the engine that will power the 737MAX, the GE-SNECMA CFM LEAP-1B variant may not take to the skies this year, as the engine manufacturer plans to begin flight tests of the A320NEO’s alternate engine, LEAP-1A, on GE’s Boeing 747 flying testbed in September 2014.
The A320NEO is expected to enter service in late 2015, while the Boeing 737MAX is expected to enter service in late 2017.
“In a high fuel cost environment, it only makes sense to consider all of the available options. We must look at the aircraft that will have the lowest operating costs and see how it fits into our fleet,” said Neil Mills in March 2013, talking about the possible switch to the Airbus A30NEO, to meet medium term fleet requirements.”We will switch from one aircraft type to another if needed. I was with Easyjet when we switched from Boeing to Airbus and we can do the same here.”
The Boeing 737-800, which compares & competes directly with the Airbus A320, burns more fuel for the same payload. The Boeing 737-800 with winglets burns as much fuel as the A320 for the same range, payload, and cruise altitude. The A320 with “sharklets”, however, beats the Boeing 737-800W, and the A320NEO, goes unmatched.
But getting efficient airplanes two years earlier isn’t everything.
A continuing fight in the World Trade Organization is between the U.S. and the European Union over government support to Boeing and Airbus. The U.S. charges that European government subsidies have allowed Airbus to undercut Boeing prices, giving Airbus an unfair advantage in the marketplace and harming the U.S. aerospace industry: Boeing has significantly streamlined its 737 production during the past two years, but company officials said their cost improvements still don’t enable them to break even at the prices Airbus is quoting for the A320.
Although Keskar says that he is “not even going to try” reaching out to AirAsia because of the large number of A320s the carrier has on its order books, Boeing apparently hasn’t stopped trying to sway the airline in its favour. However, Boeing isn’t willing to sell at any price, even though Airbus is charging far less than Boeing is willing to accept. Boeing marketing Vice President Randy Baseler said “the only standard Airbus is setting is with price” on the 2004 Air Berlin deal, in which the German carrier ordered 70 Airbus A320 aircraft . “If you cut your prices enough, anybody will take them,” he said.
Few analysts feel Airbus offers a discount of as much as 60% to sway orders in their favour, while Airbus plays down the discount.
The matter only worsens with the projected 737MAX development costs expected at twice that for the A320NEO. The 737MAX is undergoing far more changes than the famous Airbus narrowbody family.
Boeing has lost out the no-frills, low cost airline segment to Airbus. Boeing once had monopolized this segment, especially with Southwest operating 588 Boeing 737 airplanes, and RyanAir operating 298 airplanes. Now, almost all start up low cost airlines fly the Airbus A320.
India’s “model" airline, IndiGo, and other start-ups: Air Deccan, Go Air, and Kingfisher Airlines (which eventually added the low cost arm Kingfisher RED) either fly or flew Airbus A320s. New airlines on the Indian horizon, whether credible or not, plan an A320 fleet: Skyjet Airways, and Volk Air.
TATA-SIA, the most talked about airline, will have an A320 fleet of 20, all leased, and AirAsia India, in line with the other AirAsias, will also fly with Airbus A320 aircraft.
SilkAir, with a brand that is not low cost but rather full service, will feature a cabin layout of 12 Business Class and 150 Economy class seats, representing an eight percent increase on SilkAir’s current seating capacity on the dual class A320s.
The only advantage in switching to a 737NG, for SilkAir, is increasing capacity without compromising on comfort through seat pitch. But it takes a lot to convince an airline to switch; especially when they could have flown more economical with the A320 sharklets, and saved on fleet transition costs. The real reason lies behind closed, motionless lips.
Stating a SilkAir press release, “A full-service carrier that is committed to creating enjoyable and reliable travel experiences, enhancements that customers can look forward to on the new aircraft include features such as the Boeing Sky Interior, which highlights new modern sculpted sidewalls and window reveals, LED lighting that enhances the sense of spaciousness, larger pivoting overhead stowage bins as well as in-seat audio and power supply for added convenience."
Then why was Spicejet, a low cost, missed by Airbus? SpiceJet began services in May 2005, when Air Asia was still flying an all Boeing 737 fleet, and just one year after EasyJet began transitioning to a predominantly Airbus A319 fleet. It was only in the December of 2005 that AirAsia received its first Airbus A320.
Said Kiran Rao, “We should have won the SpiceJet order the first time around, but it is just that at the time we had so many orders and took our eye off the ball,”.
But TATA-SIA, a full service carrier, should have been the target of Boeing. Dinesh Keshkar said that with the huge backlog for the 737, it was not able to provide narrowbodies to Tata SIA in line with its target to start operations in 2014.
The Indian MAX announcement that never came
Boeing in late 2012 had hoped to take its first order for the 737 MAX from an Indian airline. This hope was rekindled when Boeing had mentioned revealing a “sizable order” for the MAX from an Indian carrier, during the 2014 Singapore Airshow.
Twice, Boeing’s announcements never came, although media reports Jet and SpiceJet have signed for Boeing 737MAX airplanes, in the double digit range.
This is in sharp contrast to Airbus A320NEO orders placed by IndiGo and GoAir. Further widening the Airbus-Boeing gap are reports of the likelihood of IndiGo placing an order for 200-250 “more" aircraft.
Recording the largest aviation growth, Asia is where all airplane manufacturers have trained their guns. But Asia is a cost conscious market, where the likes of low cost airlines sprout often and thrive. That makes, statistically, a great market for Airbus, and a bleak outlook for Boeing, for now atleast. Few orders for Boeing 737 airplanes are overshadowed by Airbus’ wins.
The A-A-B-B-E aircraft manufacturers, namely, Airbus-ATR-Boeing-Bombardier-Embraer, have all announce their 2013 orders and deliveries.
Boeing announced its tally on 6th, Airbus on 13th, Embraer on 15th, Bombardier on 20th, and ATR on 23rd January, 2014. (today).
The results get sorted as: Medium-Long Haul Jetliners: Airbus v/s Boeing, Regional Jet: Embraer v/s Bombardier, and Turboprops: Bombardier v/s ATR.
Medium-Long Haul Jetliners: Airbus v/s Boeing
Boeing made more airplanes and sold and retained more airplane orders (based on NET orders) than Airbus. The single aisle family is the best performing airplanes for both manufacturers. The Quad Jet programs aren’t doing well. Lufthansa is the only operator of the 747-8 intercontinental: the passenger version of the 747-8.
Regional Jet: Embraer v/s Bombardier
Embraer seems to be steaming ahead of Bombardier’s regional jet programs. 5 orders of the E170 were cancelled, while 100 E175E2, 25 E190E2, and 25 E195E2 orders were placed. 3 CS100 orders were cancelled, while 37 CS300 orders were booked.
Embraer has emerged as the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jets up to 130 seats.
Turboprops: Bombardier v/s ATR.
The Bombardier Q400 Turboprop program is nowhere close to the performance of the ATR 72/42 program. The above figures include 10 ATR42-600 sales and 7 ATR42-600 deliveries.
Left: Subsonic wind tunnel testing at QinetiQ’s facility in Farnborough, U.K, Right: Trans-sonic wind tunnel testing at Boeing’s Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle
Boeing announced that testing has begun at the Boeing Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle to further validate 777X high-speed performance projections. Data from the high-speed tests will help engineers with the configuration development of the airplane, validate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) predictions and support preliminary loads cycle development.
Subsonic wind tunnel testing on the 777X started on Dec. 5, 2013 at QinetiQ’s test facility in Farnborough, U.K., to test the airplane models’ performance at low speeds such as those experienced at takeoff and landing, and at different non-clean configurations, notably with the high lift devices such as flaps and slats.
“We are on track to complete our top-level design in 2014 and reach firm configuration in 2015,”, Terry Beezhold, vice president and chief project engineer of the 777X program, said, back in Dec 2013. “Wind tunnel testing will validate our performance models and generate a vast amount of data that our engineering teams will use to design the airplane in this phase of development.”
The Boeing 777X program, which includes the 777-8X and 777-9X aircraft, is yet to be formally christened.