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27 April 2006

Weight a minute

I've heard that the competition is complaining that Boeing is out there "grossly exaggerating" the weight differences between the A380 freighter and the new 747-8F - to make the case that the 747-8 freighter is more efficient than their A380F.

Well, okay, yes we do say their airplane is heavier. And my Airbus counterparts would have you believe this is public relations "smoke and mirrors." But it's simple arithmetic we're talking about here.

I mean, why would you want to buy an airplane that hauls 74 tonnes more weight on every trip, just so you can have the capability to carry 7 tonnes more revenue payload? That's right, every time an A380F takes off, it will be carrying 74 tonnes of extra weight. If you ask me, that's the definition of a very inefficient freighter.

Let's do the math.

Boeing 747 vs Airbus A-380 airplane weight comparison chart image

The A380F tips the scales at 74 tonnes more OEW than the 747-8F.

According to Airbus' own published data, the A380F will carry 141 tonnes of revenue payload, minus tare - "tare" being the weight of the containers and pallets the freight is loaded on or in.

By comparison, the 747-8F can carry 134 tonnes, minus tare.

The difference then is 7 tonnes. Which means, the A380F can carry that much more in revenue payload. Follow me so far?

Now, the A380F's operating empty weight (OEW), as published by Airbus, is 252 tonnes, excluding tare. The 747-8F's OEW is 178 tonnes, excluding tare.

The difference here is 74 tonnes. The A380F weighs 74 tonnes more than the 747-8F. Simple, right?

Then, if you divide the revenue payload capacity for the A380F (141 tonnes) by the corresponding figure for the 747-8F (134 tonnes), you discover that the A380F carries 5% more revenue payload.

Now, divide the 252 tonnes of OEW for the A380F by the 178 tonnes of OEW for the 747-8F. The result is that the A380F carries over 40% more airplane structure weight than the 747-8F.

Bottom line: with the A380F, you're flying around over 40% more airplane structural weight for only 5% more revenue payload!

That's not a good trade-off. And it's why Boeing believes the 747-8F will consume about 30% less fuel per trip and well over 20% less fuel per tonne.

This has nothing to do with "Boeing PR." And has everything to do with simple math.

20 April 2006

"China rocks!"

I got to witness history this week. And that's no exaggeration. I was one of about 5,000 Boeing employees in the Everett factory on Wednesday when Chinese president Hu Jintao paid a visit.

Air China 747-400 rolls to stop along the Boeing flightline as dignitaries line up to greet President Hu Jintao photo

An Air China 747-400 rolls to a stop along the Boeing flightline as dignitaries line up to greet President Hu Jintao on Tuesday morning.

The whole event was pretty extraordinary. To have the president of China make his first stop in the U.S. at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. Then taxi onto the Boeing flightline and step out of the plane to the cheers of Chinese-Americans assembled there to greet President Hu and the First Lady. Well, let's just say it's been a week to remember.

Chinese President Hu waves to the crowd in Everett WA photo

President Hu waves to the crowd in Everett.

I've been fascinated with the Chinese market since the first time I visited China in 1984. In recent years I've made many trips to China, including briefings to the Chinese media, government officials, and airlines, to discuss the Chinese market and Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Of course Boeing and China have had a relationship throughout the modern jet era that spans nearly 35 years. And our ties go back even further, to the earliest days of Bill Boeing's company.

Needless to say, this week's events have been quite positive for Boeing and the economy here in the state of Washington.

Alan Mulally and President Hu Jintao projected on a giant screen photo

Images of BCA President and CEO Alan Mulally and President Hu Jintao projected on a giant screen at the event inside the Everett factory on Wednesday.

In his remarks at the Everett factory, home of the 747, 767, 777, and 787, President Hu showed that he knew how to work the home crowd. "Boeing is a household name in my country," he said. "When Chinese people fly, it is mostly in a Boeing plane. I am happy to tell you that I came to the United States on a Boeing plane." You can access some audio clips from the event here.

Paul Dernier gets a hug and a handshake from President Hu photo

Alan Mulally applauds as Paul Dernier, a 777 systems installation supervisor, gets a hug and a handshake from President Hu. Dernier presented the Chinese president with a Boeing hat during the factory event in Everett.

China has recently ordered a total of 150 Next-Generation 737s, after the signing last week in Washington, D.C. of a general purchase agreement. The 80 airplanes in last week's agreement combine with 70 airplanes agreed to in November 2005 to complete the 150-airplane purchase. We expect to finalize the agreements over the next few weeks.

President Hu touched on that order in his remarks, as well as expressing China's enthusiasm at being a part of the customer launch team for the 787, with an order of 60 Dreamliners by six Chinese airlines.

Boeing forecasts that China will need more than 2,600 new airplanes in the next 20 years - about 64% of which will be single-aisle airplanes such as the 737. The 737 represents a large portion of China's fleet even now, making up a little over 40% of China's passenger airplanes.

President Hu and the First Lady photo

A final wave goodbye from the top of the air stairs on Wednesday afternoon before President Hu and the First Lady depart for the "other Washington."

There were so many quotable moments this week. Alan Mulally really summed up the excitement at the conclusion of the Everett factory event, cheering, "China rocks!"

And President Hu put a fine cap on the entire visit when he vowed that the cooperation between Boeing and China will be even greater in the future and will "fly further and higher, just like a Boeing plane."

12 April 2006

Office hours

Sometimes I travel to where the media is, and sometimes they pay me a visit here in Seattle. This week, I got to talk with a couple of international reporters without having to go any farther than the lobby of our offices.

First, I heard from Gerald Braunberger, a business editor at the Sunday edition of FAZ, one of Germany's leading newspapers. Turns out he's writing a book on the Boeing and Airbus competition. So I was more than happy to give him my point of view during a telephone discussion. (I guess that's no big surprise - I'm always ready to share my opinions!)

Mr. Braunberger asked me about the differing commercial airplanes strategies and market scenarios of the two companies. And I told him that while Boeing has been saying for the past 15 years that twin-engine airplanes are the most efficient way to fly passengers, Airbus has pursued a "four engines for the long haul" strategy for far too long. And that they're playing catch-up with their A350 offering, having now essentially thrown out the "four engines" philosophy.

Another interesting question was what do we expect from U.S.-based network airlines in terms of airplane orders in the coming years? Well, I noted that this current buying cycle is interesting because it's been absent - so far - the traditional big U.S. carriers, as well as the big flag carriers of Europe. We have been observing recently on the U.S. side, that carriers are starting to get their revenues up. And as long as the U.S. economy continues strong, probably by the end of this year, the U.S. carriers could be realizing an operating profit. And it's likely they'll be entering the order cycle late in 2006 or early in 2007. We're also likely to see the big traditional European carriers entering the market later this year or early in the next.

I'll be curious to see the book that Mr. Braunberger produces as a result of his research.

Randy Baseler and GloboNews Reporter Rodrigo Alvarez photo

Chatting on camera with GloboNews on Monday, in the lobby of BCA's Seattle offices.

I also took part in a week-long Seattle visit by a crew from Brazil's GloboNews, TV Globo's cable news channel. Globo is one of the world's largest television networks, so their visit here to see a variety of Boeing sites and videotape a number of interviews is something of a big deal.

Reporter Rodrigo Alvarez asked me a very pointed question about our market strategy vs. Airbus: "Why are you right, and they're wrong?" And my answer, simply put, was that it's not a matter of "they're wrong." It's more accurate to say that we have two distinct views of the market. We believe that airlines ultimately respond to what passengers want. And what passengers have been asking for is more choices - more opportunities to fly where they want to go, when they want to go. So airlines are responding by providing more frequencies and more city pairs.

And I told Mr. Alvarez that's the foundation of our market strategy. We are designing and building airplanes that allow airlines to provide more frequent service to virtually any city pairs around the world.

On the other hand, Airbus has built its strategy on the belief that there's going to be a significant shift in airplane size. In fact they say airplane size is going to grow 20% over the next 20 years. So they've heavily invested in a 550-seat airplane.

The real question, I pointed out, is which of these strategies is correct? We may not know for another 10 years or so.

The GloboNews reporter wanted to know, is it possible to have shops and lounges on an airplane, as we've seen in some of the publicity for the A380? Well, it's certainly possible. But is it economical, given the cost of "real estate" inside an airplane?

I pointed out that if you think about the most expensive real estate in the most expensive city on earth, the space inside an airplane would still probably be hundreds of times more expensive! So the question is do you want to fill it with revenue-generating passenger seats, or with lounges and bowling alleys? The answer: the space will be occupied by whatever produces the most revenue!

Globo TV is working on a documentary project which will also include Airbus and Embraer. It will potentially be seen by tens of millions of viewers throughout Latin America. So it's certainly a privilege to have the opportunity to share some of what we're up to in Seattle with news viewers in this dynamic region of the world.

06 April 2006

Big blue doors

One thing you have to say about Boeing's Everett, Washington facility - they like to do things in a big way up there.

Boeing's Everett Washington facility photo

This sweeping view of the Everett factory gives you some sense of the huge scope of the new mural along the doors.

The main factory building - home of the 747, 767, 777 and 787 - is already recognized as the largest building in the world by volume.

Now all six of the factory doors are graced by the largest digital graphic in the world. In case you missed the news story, the Guinness World Records people recently conferred that honor on the huge mural - more than 100,000 square feet (9,290 square meters) of pressure-sensitive graphic film.

Boeing's Everett Washington facility photo

The look of the new doors evokes our new livery, but also conveys the excitement of flying, and the passion the people of Boeing Commercial Airplanes have for the aerospace industry.

This was a gargantuan project. Each of the doors is 82 feet (25 meters) high and are anywhere from 300 to 350 feet (91 to 107 meters) across. Credit for the design goes to Fitch Design Consultants, London.

My understanding is that it took more than five months to install this huge mural. A lot of that had to do with some unusually wet - even for Seattle - weather we had recently. They had to contend with 27 straight days of rain in December and January!

I'd say it was worth the wait.

By the way, I see that another good discussion is underway about cabin interiors on Airliners.net. And yes, I do browse these threads from time to time!

03 April 2006

Max headroom

I got this email some time back from Dale in Melbourne, Australia, and I've been meaning to address this very subject here in the blog:

Randy, could you please clarify a couple of points for me? Is the 787 configured at 9-abreast offering the same level of seat comfort as an 8-abreast A350? What level of comfort does the A350 go down to at 9-abreast?

Well Dale, I’m going to clarify those questions for you right now.

As you've probably heard, when we designed the 787, one of the things we wanted to do was provide a superior environment for the passenger. Everything from the comfort of the seats you sit in, to the refreshing atmosphere inside the cabin, the lighting, the open architecture, the whole scheme of things.

So a big part of our efforts focused on actually shaping the airplane in a way that would enhance the cabin interior. And we chose to go with what is often referred to as a "double-bubble" fuselage.

What that means is a double circle. It allows us to have the lower section of the airplane shaped the right size for cargo, and allows us to situate the shape of the upper section so that the widest part of the passenger cabin is higher up from the floor. This allows for a straighter sidewall, more comfort around the window seats, and a wider cabin overall.

Boeing 787 vs. Airbus A350 comparison image

In the image above, you can see that the cross section we chose for the Dreamliner allows us to provide a 9-abreast configuration - with the same kind of comfort levels you find in economy class in today's airplanes such as in the 747 and the A330/A340. Basically, the very same triple seats used in the 747 could be used in a 9-abreast configuration in the 787.

But the beauty of the 787 is the built-in flexibility for airlines for the different kinds of markets they serve. Our customers will have the option in the Dreamliner of providing a premium economy arrangement at 8-abreast. This allows for the largest seat available - bigger than you'd find today in economy - a 19 inch seat bottom.

Now here's the issue. When it comes to comparing the 787 to the Airbus alternative, there's been some confusion. Should this be an 8-abreast to 8-abreast comparison? Or a 9-abreast to 9-abreast?

I'd say neither.

Because Airbus does not have an acceptable (at today's comfort levels) 9-abreast option in their A300/A330/A340 cross-section. It just doesn't fit. Unless you consider a sidewall curving into your head to be comfortable.

Boeing 787 vs. Airbus A350 comparison image

And judging from the overlay above, that doesn't look very comfortable. You'd have to scrunch over pretty far to fit in that seat in an Airbus configuration, don't you think?

The 787 is 15 inches (38 cm) wider inside at the head and shoulders level of the seated passenger - where it matters most.

Let's talk about it a bit more, because Airbus often says there isn't much difference between the 787 and their product. They say the difference in the fuselages amounts to only a 4.5 inch (11 cm) advantage for the Dreamliner at the widest place.

Well, the only problem is that once again Airbus is talking about exterior dimensions. And because we have differently-shaped fuselages, the widest places on the airplanes - measured from inside the passenger cabin - are not necessarily in the same spot.

The Airbus airplane has a single, circular fuselage - which means its widest point falls somewhere nearer the floor in the passenger cabin. What that means to you, the passenger, seated at the window, is a steep slope at the head and shoulders - sacrificing your comfort, and airlines' flexibility.

With the 787's larger double bubble, you get a straighter sidewall and less of a slope.

Boeing 787 vs. Airbus A350 comparison image

But wait. There's more. Even though the A350 will not have a new fuselage, Airbus has announced it will have a "new wider cabin." They claim to have redesigned the frame structure and liner, and reshaped the bins, to provide - according to Airbus - about three more inches.

Well, you can see above that even allowing for Airbus' claim, they still don't have the ability to provide comparable comfort levels at 9-abreast. It would still fall short by about 12 inches (30 cm) - measured at the passenger's head and shoulder level.

So, from the point of view of that unfortunate window seat passenger, 9-abreast is still not a viable configuration on the A350.

This brings me back to the 8 vs. 8 or 9 vs. 9 comparison question.

Clearly, if you're comparing these airplanes on per-seat efficiency measures, such as fuel consumption-per-seat, or cost-per-seat, then I think the appropriate comparison is the 9-abreast 787 vs. the 8-abreast A350.

Otherwise, if you ever happen to be a passenger seated by the window in any 9-abreast A350, I'd suggest you "mind your head."