Randy's Journal: Archives

05 December 2006

Out to launch

By now I'm sure you've read that Airbus has gotten the official okay to go out and launch the latest version of the Airbus A350 - the 2nd industrial launch for this airplane in 14 months.

And in general, it doesn't appear to be much different from what was announced at Farnborough. The only significant differences that we see at this point are in the areas of:

  • Timing
  • Composites

Airbus says we won't see the first A350-900 until 2013 - which is a year later than previously announced. The first A350-800 is now scheduled for 2014, and the first A350-1000 will not be delivered until at least 2015. This makes the initial A350 delivery at least five years behind the 787 Dreamliner.

And their biggest model, the -1000, which is to compete with the 777-300ER, won't be arriving until nine years from today. Mind you, we forecast a market of 1,450 airplane deliveries in this size category (200-400 seats) between now and 2015.

Enough said about timing.

The other change we see is in the commitment to more composites. They've dramatically reversed course and decided to join us in building an airplane with a composite fuselage, taking the total use of composites to about 50%. (I seem to recall that in talking about the early A350 they proclaimed that the "optimum" amount of composites for an airplane was about 30%.)

We see this change as a rational and smart decision. However their fuselage - as we understand it - is going to be constructed in a traditional manner, except with composite panels rather than aluminum panels. For an airplane like the 787, we think that sacrifices some of the benefits of going with composite material.

Airbus claims it is going with composite panels because of their "repairability." We chose to go with the barrel manufacturing approach because it is lighter and more efficient. The repairability aspects are comparable.

Airbus' view is that panels make it easier to repair. But in fact, repairs would be made in a similar way on either airplane. As I like to think of it, if you have a hole in the wall of your house, would you take down the entire wallboard to repair it? Of course not. You'd just fix the hole.

Elsewhere, I was surprised to see in some reports that Airbus continues to muddle its comparisons between the A350 and various Boeing airplanes in order to claim a seat-efficiency advantage. As I pointed out during and after Farnborough, why would you compare a 270-seat A350 with a 240-seat 787, when you can compare it with the 787-9 which seats 280? It's misleading when you don't compare like sizes to like sizes.

777-787 market coverage comparison image

The 787 and 777 - better market coverage, a more efficient fleet, and available sooner. (Note: 777s are shown in two seat classes, 9-abreast premium economy and 10-abreast standard economy.)

There's still a lot to understand about the A350 family, and we'll report more here as we learn more. But there's nothing contained in the Airbus launch announcement that alters the Boeing product strategy. The 787 and 777 continue to be the perfect combination to cover this very broad 200-400 seat market. Keep in mind that this segment is forecasted to make up 90% of all passenger widebody deliveries over the next 20 years.

Finally, there's a school of thought that says being second to market is good, because you can respond to whatever the competitor has done. In defense of this argument people have referenced the success of the Boeing 777 against the A340.

Well let me tell you why this is different. With the 777 we were about two years after the A340. But the key difference was a technology breakthrough - two engines over four engines, and the efficiency that came with that breakthrough.

With the A350 we're talking five years later, at least - and with comparable technology. So where is the breakthrough in the A350 that makes being second a significant advantage?