Three jetliner manufacturers, Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, in alphabetical order, rolled out single aisle firsts in March this year.
It started on March 12th, when Embraer rolled out the first production E175 with fuel burn improvements. New winglets, and fuselage wide aerodynamic “cleanups”, and system optimizations have bettered fuel consumption by 6.4%: a good 1.4% better than the technical team had expected to see in fuel savings, on a “typical flight”, which, according to The Flying Engineer estimates, are in the 500-1000NM region. This 6.4% fuel burn reduction is close to double the figure Airbus achieved with its A320 when it strapped on the winglets it calls Sharklets: between 3-4%, and more than 3 times what Boeing achieved with its 737NG when it rolled out the 737 Performance Improvement Package (PIP) in 2012: 2%.
On March 17th, Airbus announced the final assembly of its A320NEO: the next landmark in mainline single aisle airplanes. The A320NEO will be the first single aisle airplane in its class to enter service, with a new type of engine in this thrust class: the Geared Turbofan Engine. The GTF is expected to set the A320NEO apart from the 737MAX; the latter is expected to fly with the CFM LEAP-1B engine that runs hotter, leaving little room for any engine growth in the future.
On March 20, Boeing rolled out the first Boeing 737NG at increased production rate: 42 airplanes a month, matching what Airbus had achieved almost a year ago: which then was the highest commercial aircraft monthly production rate ever. The interesting feat here is that Boeing achieves this at a single facility, while Airbus gets its 42 airplanes a month at its three final assembly lines: Toulouse, Hamburg, and Tianjin.
As for Bombardier, which is going through a very difficult period, the First CS300: the only aircraft variant in the CSeries program that is relevant today and has garnered much attention from customers, almost twice the firm orders as the shorter variant, the CS100, is in final assembly and the systems are being installed. First flight of the CS300 is expected soon, and the entry into service of the CS300 is expected 6 months after the CS100, the latter slated for the second half of 2015, with the hope that no further program delays are announced.
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.
The first CS100 intended for commercial service being assembled.
Bombardier’s announcement: revising the entry into service (EIS) of the CSeries: came as a surprise to noone. You didn’t even need company insiders to leak information about the slow progress of the test flight campaign. The media front-ending is clue enough: the lack of updates, and the general lowly feeling : gave away a test flight campaign with nothing much to talk about.
Bombardier isn’t the first manufacturer to declare intensive test flight campaigns and program milestones, only to show the world that their program management planning wasn’t planned at all. The trend has been in alphabetical order: Airbus – Boeing – Bombardier. The Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 programs talked of entry into service dates that were too good, only to be found later that that they were too good to be true.
For Airbus, the A380 was a first: in terms of size, wiring, and a level of coordination in design that was not well coordinated. For Boeing, the airplane was, technically, a new design, with many firsts: technical and production, leading to software issues, and supply issues.
The graph below shows how unique, technically challenging, and possibly operationally “disruptive” airplane programs, show longer periods between the first flight & entry into service (EIS). The A300 was Airbus’ first airplane; the A340 was Airbus’ first quad-jet. The A350 has nothing special about it: it builds upon the A380’s avionics & software; the only thing new is the extent of use of composites. 12 months for the program should be doable.
Legend: Blue: Past programs, Red: programs with significant gap between FF & EIS, Orange: Programs in progress.
In comparison to the A380 and the 787 programs, the CSeries is a “stranger” airplane for Bombardier. It is Bombardier’s first all new airliner design (the CRJ series is a derivative of the Challenger from Canadair, the Q400 is a modification of De-Havilland’s turboprop offering), the manufacturer’s first airplane so big, the first airplane in the world to fly with the PW1000G Geared Turbofan Engine (never before has such a large GTF ever flown), the companies first fly-by-wire aircraft, Bombardier’s first foray into designing an all composite wing for a commercial aircraft, and the first use of Al-Li on such scale on a narrowbody aircraft.
It is so new, that it is to Bombardier what the 787 is to Boeing. A great airplane, promising excellent fuel savings, but exhibiting a huge leap in technology & process: a toxic combination that introduces too many variables in one go.
The CSeries program has pushed the first deliverers by nine months to the second half of 2015, taking the time between first flight and EIS to a projected 21 months. The CS300, is expected to enter service 6 months later.
That is terrible news for Bombardier: The CS300 is expected to enter service in early 2016.
The CSeries was the very aircraft that made Airbus and Boeing reengine their airplane. But with the A320NEO planned to enter service in 2015, the popular single aisle family, which members A319NEO and A320NEO compete directly & indirectly with the CS300, will be available earlier, and with a better appeal: thanks to a proven airframe: the A320 family’s. Considering that Airbus can afford upto 25% off on the list prices, the A319NEO can be sold for for US$70.8M, about US$7M costlier than the CS300’s list price. The CS300 burns lesser fuel than the A319NEO, and is expected to have the same operating cost per seat as the A320NEO. The CS300 still has an appeal: massive appeal. Technically that is, operationally: uncertain.
“We are taking the required time to ensure a flawless entry-into-service. We are very pleased that no major design changes have been identified, this gives us confidence that we will meet our performance targets," said Mike Arcamone, President, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.
But questions still linger in the minds of most: with so much so new to Bombardier, how reliable will the airplane be? Will the CSeries become the narrowbody “Dreamliner”?
“I remember when we had very strong demand for A319s, then it shifted to the larger capacity A320 version…and we’re now seeing very, very strong demand for A321s", explained John Leahy, Airbus’ Chief Operating Officer – Customers, during the 2013-2032 Global Market Forecast press briefing in September, 2013.
Almost a month later, the US Based carrier JetBlue Airways, deferred deliveries of its 100 seat Embraer 190 aircraft, ordering instead 35 Airbus A320 family aircraft: 20 A321NEO and 15 A320CEO aircraft. The airline seeks to reduce costs with the Airbus A320 aircraft which burn less fuel per seat, but with a largr capacity: 150 passengers for the A320 and 190 passengers for the A321.
Back home, and one month before JetBlue’s decision to focus on larger capacity aircraft, the “JetBlue of India”, IndiGo, opted for 20 Airbus A321NEO aircraft, of its 180 all A320 order back in 2011, exercising the option that was inked in the deal.
Airlines, which stayed away from the A321, which accounts for 20% of all Airbus A320 family (A318, A319 CEO+NEO ,A320CEO+NEO, A321CEO+NEO) orders, are now leaning toward the A321NEO because it promises the affordable operating costs that otherwise kept airlines at bay: different aircraft sub-type, and higher operating cost. Suddenly, the A321NEO’s reduced operating costs, thanks to the fuel saving sharklets and the PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engine, make the added 20-30seats affordably attractive.
To the airlines, higher seat capacity at reduced operating costs means higher profit potential. Note potential.
Statistically, the best performing airline in the country, IndiGo, has the best load factors,: an average of 81.4% over 5 years from 2009-2013, with the highest being 83.8% in 2010. IndiGo’s added capacity, and demand has grown, but the effect on load factors has been nil; the average load factors remain more or less constant. So getting larger airplanes will not have a significant impact on load factors, but may slightly increase profits per flight on account of the reduced operating cost per seat.
Indigo’s single-type fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft can accommodate 180 passengers. 83.8% load factor corresponds to 150 seats. So why not replace the fleet with A319s?
A 150 seat airplane like the Airbus A319, or its direct competitor, the Boeing 737-700 is costlier to operate, per seat, as a shorter aircraft isn’t as optimized as the longer aircraft it was derived from. But what if you had an aircraft with a cost per seat as much as that of the A320NEO (which is claimed to be 15% more efficient than the A320 CEO), but with 150 seats? This would make the aircraft cheaper to operate, have lower capacity but push load factors closer to 100%, while keeping the fares low, or possibly lower than the competition.
The smaller, efficient aircraft, like what Bombardier claims of its CSeries CS300, has lesser seats to sell to break even, has the same cost per seat as the A320NEO, costs lesser to operate, but doesn’t have to fly with many empty seats if the tickets are priced low, or lower than the competition, and the brand marketed well.
Assuming that the breakeven load factor (BELF) for a particular, fixed operating environment is 70% for the Airbus A320NEO, and assuming that the CSeries CS300 fitted with 150 seats has a similar BELF, then with the A320NEO, the airline must sell 126 seats to break even, while sell only 105 seats on the CS300 to break even. Considering the average of 150 seats occupied, per flight, on average, the A320NEO flies 24 passengers contributing to the airline’s profits, while the CSeries CS300 flies 45 passengers contributing to the airline’s profits. Of course, if both aircraft flew with 100% load factors, on a dense route, the A320 gets 54 passengers contributing to profits, but that is only a potential, not a guarantee.
Unfortunately, airline pricing and BELF aren’t so simple, but this gives you a rough idea of what is possible with the CSeries CS300 in the Indian market.
For those who didn’t get it: What’s possible is an all CS300-fleet airline, that shoots right into profitability, defeating the competition. Is it this simple? Only IF Bombardier delivers its promise of meeting the projected costs per seat, and if Bombardier’s not-that-great image relating to aircraft dispatch reliability and maintenance issues are sorted: something that will be a challenge considering that almost everything about the aircraft, including the very design, is new, and without decades of airframe maturity like that of Airbus’s or Boeing’s narrowbody market leaders.
The conundrum: Increase capacity and increase both the profit potential as well as the risk of a loss on a route, should the loads go either ways. Decrease capacity and introduce a stronger element of predictability and control, but lowering the profit potential.
Airbus’ marketing seems to have gone on a slightly unrealistic overdrive, with its “Felt squashed on a recent flight? It’s not you, it’s the seat" campaign, which states:
“Airbus offers an entire product line of modern, efficient jetliners designed for today’s standard of passenger comfort: at least an 18-inch wide seat in economy class."
That statement isn’t true. Data published by Airbus shows that the A320 family’s cabin can have either 18 inch wide seats and a 19 inch aisle, or 17 inch wide seats and a 25 inch aisle. Indigo Airlines has the 17 inch seat option. The campaign doesn’t explicitly mention the “long haul economy standard” set by Airbus, and slyly brings the A320 into the picture as well.
“The company’s entire product line is designed for modern comfort standards, ranging from the single-aisle A320 Family to the widebody A330 and A350 XWB families and the 21st century flagship A380 jetliner – which has a standard 18.5-inch seat in economy class.“
“Seat width is one of the most important – yet often overlooked – factors for passenger comfort. With an extra inch, compared to the 17-inch industry norm set in the 1950s that is still used by other aircraft manufacturers, Airbus jetliners offers travellers more personal space and room for lateral movement."
Embraer offers 18.25 inch wide seats (though another technical documentation points to 18 inch wide seats) in the economy, across the E Jet series (as per company published data). The C-Series, which has threatened the A318, A319, and in part the A320 members of the A320 family, has seats that (claimed by Bombardier) are a mix of 18.5 inch wise seats and 19 inch seats (see image above). These are far wider, and more comfortable than the seats on the A320, and even the A380 in economy (claimed to be 18.5 inch wide). So, “Airbus cabins are designed to offer passengers and airlines the highest levels of comfort, services and efficiency.“?
Airbus’ inadequate and improper “research", states “It’s not you, it’s the seat" and “the 17-inch industry norm set in the 1950s" in the same page (CLICK HERE). Truth be told, Rebecca Utz, from the University of Utah, presented a paper, “Obesity in America, 1960-2000: Is it an Age, Period, or Cohort Phenomenon?", which shows how its “You" and not the “Seat" that has grown too big to fit in a 17 inch wide seat.
Three and a half months after the first C Series took to the skies, the second Flight Test Vehicle, FTV2, registered C-GWYD, took off from Montréal International (Mirabel) Airport on 3rd January, 2014, climbed to 13,000ft, touched 180knots. The maiden flight lasted 2hrs 15 minutes. When compared to the A350’s program, which has a similar target of certifying the aircraft within 12 months with 5 test aircraft, the CSeries’ CS100 FTV2, has taken to the skies almost 2 weeks earlier.
The 5 CS100s will later be joined by 2 CS300s. Interestingly, Bombardier plans the CS300s for a later stage in the testing, when the CS300 accounts for close to 65% of all CSeries Orders (182). In contrast, the A350-900XWB, which accounts for 67% of the 814 orders, is the model that is flying in the test flight campaign.
Says Rob Dewar, Vice President and General Manager, CSeries Program ,“While FTV1 is the initial test vehicle validating the flight envelope, FTV2 testing will complement the existing knowledge we have gained from FTV1 – all of which will ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the data collected. Specifically, we will look to FTV2 to test the aircraft systems and its redundancies, including the brand-new avionics suite, in addition to measuring the aircraft’s performance. The ongoing momentum of the CSeries flight test program has been an energizing experience for the team, and we are eager to apply the knowledge gained from FTV1 and FTV2 to the following flight test vehicles, which will also take flight this new year."