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22 November 2006

Talkin' turkey

Media reports say that EADS/Airbus is poised to launch the latest version of the A350 very soon. So I thought this would be as good a time as any to summarize the Boeing view on the "XWB" based on the limited information we've seen and heard so far.

In general, the new A350 offering is an improvement over the existing Airbus A330 and 4-engined A340 families. But the A350 still lacks answers to several key technological questions for an airplane entering service as much as 8 or so years from today.

In addition, Airbus is trying to cover the very broad 200 to 400 seat market with just one airplane family. Something that is very difficult to do. And it leaves Airbus basically with no entry in the sizeable 200-250 seat market (where the 787-8 is positioned). About 1,500 airplanes of that size will need to be replaced (A300, A310, 767).

Obviously our views on the A350 are based on what Airbus announced at Farnborough earlier this year. I expect there will be more changes to the design, because the current configuration seems to fall short of what the market is looking for.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 777 parked together at SeaTac Airport image

The 777 and 787: still the perfect combination - depicted here as they might look parked together at the gate in the near future.

Airbus has previously released some information on seating capacity, range, and economic comparisons vs. the Boeing 787 and 777, with little technical detail to back up their claims. Even by 2015, Boeing doesn't foresee the availability of technologies needed to produce an aircraft with the capabilities and economics that Airbus was advertising at Farnborough.

And one of the important things to keep in mind as you hear about the A350: Airbus compares each A350XWB model with a Boeing airplane that is significantly smaller, rather than comparing like-sizes. This has the effect of distorting the per-seat efficiency comparisons to their advantage.

For example, Airbus compares the A350-800 at 270 seats to the 787-8 at 242 seats - a 28-seat differential. A more appropriate comparison is with the 787-9 which seats 280 - a 10-seat differential.

Something else to remember: Airbus is comparing the relative efficiency of the A350 - not due to enter service until sometime after 2012 - to today's versions of the 777 family. But Boeing continuously adds technology to the 777 product line - note the recent introductions of the 777-300ER, 777-200LR, and 777 Freighter - and we'll look to further improve our twin-aisle products by incorporating the latest technologies.

And as I've noted before, there is a market for more than 1,400 new airplane deliveries between now and 2015 in the 200-400 seat market. What airline can afford to wait?

Finally, you ought to view the "XWB" label with a bit of skepticism. While the A350XWB may claim to be 3 to 5 inches wider than the 787 (which adds little to no value), it is 10 to 12 inches narrower than the 777. I still don't quite get the claim of "Xtra Wide Body" when 2 out of 3 of its models compete directly with the 777, which is significantly wider.

So, having summed that all up, I will now turn my attention to working on an extra wide body of my own. I'll be feasting on the traditional American Thanksgiving turkey dinner tomorrow!

15 November 2006

Start me up

Startup airlines. There seem to be new ones popping up every day. Around the world, the numbers are staggering.

Of course, all airlines were once startups. And some relatively recent startups have enjoyed enormous success and have evolved into industry giants.

But there have been hundreds more worldwide that have valiantly tried but ultimately failed to "make it" in the extremely competitive airline industry. This is a tough, tough business to get a toe-hold in. Only about one percent of carriers that get off the ground actually succeed in the long run.

Maybe you've heard the saying from Virgin Atlantic Airways Chairman Sir Richard Branson: "What's the best way to become a millionaire? Start off as a billionaire and launch an airline."

StartupBoeing.com image

StartupBoeing.com is a great resource for entrepreneurs interested in starting a new airline.

But seriously, if against the odds you decide you want to start an airline, where do you begin? Boeing receives hundreds of requests each year from startup airlines, entrepreneurs, investor groups, and many others seeking our help. So we've decided to create a single place to provide experienced answers for a startup's questions.

We've launched a Website called StartupBoeing. On the site are some tools and resources to help future aviation entrepreneurs get started. You could almost call it a "one-stop shop" for folks who have a serious interest in starting an airline.

StartupBoeing consolidates all the ingredients to get started: business plan outlines, airplane selection data, airplane sourcing information, and links to a wide variety of internal and external resources. Everything is geared to the specific needs of startup airlines.

But let me repeat something. Starting an airline is not easy.

The absolute essential ingredient, as with any other venture, is a sound business plan. And we think StartupBoeing will help potential startups think about the right questions and considerations to prepare that plan.

Some of the things I would suggest considering are: understanding the market, developing a competitive advantage, and creating a mix of products and services customized to the opportunity. You also have to think about who will manage the airline. And of course, how to raise all-important capital.

Now here's the good part. There are Boeing experts behind the scenes to help along the way. They won't write a business plan for a startup, but they can evaluate it and provide feedback and insight.

So why are we doing this? Sure, we love to sell airplanes. But we also believe in using our expertise and resources to help all potential customers succeed for the good of the airline industry. In the past, these questions were handled by multiple organizations within Boeing. This Website will allow us to use our resources more efficiently so we can be more responsive and provide more thorough and complete information.

And above all, we want to do what we can to help create healthy airlines that promote safe, reliable and profitable operations.

So if you've ever dreamed of starting an airline, check out the new site. Maybe you can be the exception to Sir Richard's rule.

09 November 2006

China magic

I just spent the past couple of weeks in China. Annually, we present our new China market 20 year forecast and product strategy overview. This year my colleague John Bates accompanied me to give the detailed product briefings.

We visited Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and finished up at the air show in Zhuhai.

Our visit started with a media briefing in Shanghai to present the 2006 Current Market Outlook (CMO). The event opened with presentations by me, followed by Bates, who is our regional director of product marketing. It ended with a spirited media Q & A session.

Randy Baseler at the CMO media briefing in Shanghai photo

Here I am presenting the CMO, while off-camera, Adele Long, our Boeing interpreter, translates for the Chinese media.

We had a great turnout, with 40 journalists attending the event - including the Xinhua News Agency, and the China News Agency, as well as the China Daily, and Shanghai Online. There was a lot of interest in Boeing's outlook and product strategy, especially in what we see for China and the Asia-Pacific region.

During the Q&A session, questions focused on our commitment to the Chinese market, and on orders from Chinese airlines. We also got some questions about the delivery schedule for the 787 Dreamliner, and on technology transfer. Afterwards, Boeing executives and media representatives enjoyed a luncheon together.

John Bates at the CMO media briefing in Shanghai photo

All of the CMO slides were in Chinese. And since John Bates (pictured here) and I do not read Chinese, we had to basically memorize the charts before the presentation.

I think it's important to present our CMO in this way each year because Chinese journalists regard this outlook as a highly informative and authoritative industry analysis. But on top of that, I think this event enhanced and promoted Boeing's leadership position in the aviation industry and demonstrated Boeing's knowledge of the market.

Concluding our China visit, we had the opportunity to attend the 6th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition - also known as Airshow China - in Zhuhai. At the show we featured our popular traveling mockup of the 787 interior. And we talked a lot about our complete product line - from the best-selling Next-Generation 737, to the 787, 777, and 747-8 families.

We hosted another CMO and product briefing at Airshow China's press center, starting with our projection that China's airline operators are going to spend $280 billion to purchase almost 2,900 new airplanes over the next 20 years.

Since 1990, the number of flights in China has increased by 13 times and will continue to grow at a very rapid rate.

China is the world's fastest-growing airplane market and by 2025, it will be the world's second biggest civil airplane market after the U.S. - with a 7.4% average annual overall growth rate for China's markets and a 8.8% average annual growth rate for domestic travel in China.

With the rapidly expanding travel and cargo markets there, we think the number of airplanes in China will more than triple to 3,900 in 2025.

It's interesting to note that I first visited China in 1984, when I spent a week in Beijing. More than 20 years later, it is absolutely mind-boggling to see the changes due to rapid economic growth China is experiencing and will continue to experience.

It is a magical place that I will always enjoy visiting.

01 November 2006

Air mail

Over recent months I've noticed that a lot of the comments we get are not only comments, but also pose some thought-provoking questions and raise some interesting issues.

So as I've done occasionally in the past, I'd like to try to address some of these questions here in the blog.

C.W. from California recently asked about composite "skins" on commercial airplanes, as in, why not make all of our existing models composite airframes?

Given that a 747 or 777 is built around an aluminum frame, how difficult would it be and how much weight would be saved by "re-skinning" with the same material that is being used for the 787? It would seem to be relatively easier to make pre-molded sheets vs. an entire fuselage .. would this be at all practical?

Well, the answer is, it's not really practical. To get the full advantage of composites we really have to create the airplane design from the beginning with the composite "material set" in mind. The cost of re-doing an aluminum fuselage design that is already complete, using another material set makes it pretty much prohibitive. I should add, though, that we are already making significant use of composite materials in some of our airplanes. 9% of the 777's structural weight, for example, is composite - primarily floor grids and the empennage section.

From Boulder, Colorado, Walter brings up a topic we frequently get questioned about: the "blended wing" concept. Earlier this year an image of a blended wing "797" made the rounds of the Internet, and got speculation swirling that Boeing has this in the works.

Is there any truth to the emails showing a blended wing 1,000-passenger concept that is dubbed a Boeing 797? Makes sense that the airline industry would head this direction some day, but it just sounds too good to be true!

Yes, too good to be true, indeed, Walter. Someone was having a bit of fun with PhotoShop perhaps. Boeing is not planning to build a 1,000 passenger commercial airplane dubbed the "797," based on the blended wing body (BWB) concept or any other futuristic concept. It's certainly not in our commercial market forecast, which goes out for 20 years. We think the commercial airplane market favors point-to-point routes, and we're developing the 787 as the perfect match to help meet that demand.

Glen, from Warrington, Pennsylvania brings up the same subject:

Is there a blended wing in the works? Are there floor plans of it?

No, not for a commercial airplane. But having said that, I should point out that Boeing Phantom Works, the company's advanced research and development group, tells me it is conducting research on the BWB concept with NASA and the U.S. Air Force. They're working to better understand what they describe as the BWB's "fundamental edge-of-the-envelope flight dynamics" and structural characteristics. The Air Force is interested in the BWB concept for its potential as a flexible, long-range, high-capacity military aircraft.

As part of the research, Phantom Works has built a scale model for wind-tunnel testing of the concept's low-speed flying characteristics. There also are plans to flight-test the scale model next year. You can read a little more about this project here.

Boeing 787 in flight image

The Dreamliner has a sleek design. But is it stealthy? Not really.

One commenter from Houston asked a 787 question I don't think I've ever heard before.

Since the 787 Dreamliner will have a full-composite fuselage and wings (or mostly so), won't its radar signature be smaller than a more metallic plane? To me, that is a good selling point.

Maybe. If you were designing a stealth aircraft. But actually, you want commercial jetliners to show up on radar for good air traffic control. Also, the ability of military jets to escape radar detection is only partially due to materials. So, in short - no, the radar signature will not be significantly different for the Dreamliner.

Then, we got a comment from Sam, who sounded a bit worried that the new A350 could potentially nip at the heels of Boeing's product line.

As threatening (or not threatening) as this new A350X is, wouldn't it be in Boeing's best interests to look into further improving the 787 .. just to keep on top of things?

Well, we always look at improvements for all of our airplanes. Short answer: not to worry, Sam. We're on top of it.

From Long Beach, California, Anton wants to suggest a novel way to make painting an airplane obsolete.

Is there a means to infuse an airlines' color scheme directly into the composite without weakening the carbon fiber structure? Wouldn't this save a lot of additional weight of not having to paint the plane?

Sometimes I'm amazed at the thoughtful ideas that come through this blog. And this one sounds fascinating. Unfortunately, our carbon fiber structure is black and would not be infusible.

Here's a comment from "G" about Boeing's strategy for twin-aisles, and plans to configure the 747-8 Intercontinental at the same length as the 747-8 Freighter.

This can be a good idea especially if Boeing considers building a bigger, better and lighter 777-8 and 777-9. Boeing's wide-body-long-range (WBLR) aircraft family will have a uniform capacity separation of 20% from 230 seats to 475 seats. It will be very difficult to position an aircraft between two Boeing WBLRs.

This statement about 20% capacity difference is correct. That's why we have four model sizes of long-range widebody airplanes to cover the 200-400 seat market - 787-8, 787-9, 777-200ER/777-200LR, and 777-300ER. Their capacity steps are approximately 20%. And then, the 747-8 is approximately 20% bigger than the 777-300ER, with about 20% less capacity than the A380-800. So yes, we think this is a good strategy.

Boeing 747-8 image

We get lots of questions about the 747-8 Freighter and the 747-8 Intercontinental.

From New York, Ed keeps the conversation focused on the 747 with this question:

I know that the answer to this is quite simple, but why does the passenger version of the 747 have nearly twice the range as the freighter? Is it because the TOW is that much heavier; does it fly at a lower altitude? Assuming both jets land with an "empty tank" and a full load of passengers vs. a full load of cargo, the passenger jet would be a continent ahead of its freight twin. Why?

Ed, the simple answer is that the freighter is carrying a lot more weight in cargo. That means it is burning more fuel and that reduces its range. The freighter carries a full cargo payload of 295,400 pounds. The passenger version only carries 94,500 pounds with a full load of passengers and their baggage. If we reduced the payload of the freighter to that of the passenger airplane, it would actually go a little farther than the passenger version.

And then we had this note from Ivan in Ontario, Canada about our comparisons of the 747-8 Freighter and the A380F.

Re: Weight a minute. What about actual productivity measured in ton-miles? The A380F range is almost as far as the 747-8F. How would the calculations look then? Total fuel + landing fees + pilot additional labour cost.

Well, by looking solely at productivity, you may not a get a full picture of the economics of an airplane. It's equivalent to comparing a 30-passenger bus and a 15-passenger van. Granted, the bus may be more "productive," but if the van is more efficient, it would be more cost effective to have 2 vans.

With commercial airplanes we usually use a measure called cost-per ton-mile. This measures how much it costs to move a ton - one nautical mile. Using this we calculate that the 747-8F has a 23% advantage over the A380F. Anyway, I hope that somewhat answers your question, Ivan.

And now that I've gotten that all off my shoulders, it feels pretty good. For those of you who asked the questions, I hope it was worth the "weight."