Firing Order

The A321neo took off for the first time with the CFM LEAP-1A engine today.

That’s a good news for the A320neo program that is progressing as expected, or almost. It is now official that the firing order of the A320neo family is A320neo, A321neo and then A319neo.

Protests

When I stated first time that I didn’t understand why the official firing order was A320neo, A319neo and A321neo, I faced all kind of criticism from all kind of people. Basically people protested the fact that I dared suggesting that the logical firing order should be A320neo, A321neo and finally A319neo.

Well, the reality is there now. The A321neo is flying although the “lead” engine is now the CFM LEAP-1A on this version.

In one of my past posts back in October 2013 (click here) I got a hell lot of stupid comments. Fortunately, today this blog is severely moderated, so there are much less incoherent comments coming from people who do not want to use their brain.

Anyways, the A321neo is now is flying and it will get its type certificate by the end of the year. Most probably the A321neo/LEAP-1A is the first to be certified.

Where Has The PW1135G-JM Gone?

The PW1135G-JM seems to be a quite mysterious version. It appeared some time in 2014 and then it remains for a certain time (click here). Bizarrely, there is not much news about this thrust rating on the Internet. I am still wondering what happened to this variant. I do not think it disappeared into thin air. It is obvious this version is specifically designed for the A321neo in order to provide the required takeoff thrust for the long-range version of the A321neo.

It is curious CFM does not offer any LEAP-1A35 today. It is unclear whether CFM would offer a higher thrust than the LEAP-1A33B2.

I really do not know what’s going on between Airbus and Pratt & Whitney on the subject of the PW1100G-JM. I have the feeling there is some kind of tension, but I cannot be sure about it because I don’t work at Airbus.

A319neo Prototype Is Built

I read somewhere that the A319neo prototype is built, although I cannot get a precise information about the pylons on that first A319neo. I am now suspecting that the first A319neo will be powered by LEAP-1A too, just like the A321neo.

When I was looking into the A319neo orders, I have the very-very strange feeling that most of them are powered by LEAP-1A engines, even though this feeling is based on nothing at all.

So yes, it seems Airbus will certify the A319neo by the end of 2017. Obviously, Airbus wants to keep its presence in this market segment at any price.

Now, there have been many speculations about the possibility Boeing might abandon the 737-7 MAX that is targeted to enter into service in 2019. I do not know whether this rumors are founded or if it is pure rubbish.

Unfortunately, Boeing does not differentiate the different 737 MAX versions in its orders and deliveries table. Therefore, I cannot confirm the number of ordered 737-7MAX so far. An independent site mentions a total of 60 firm orders for the 737-7MAX. IF the number remains so small, I just don’t see the point of getting the type certificate so early. After all, Boeing will be damn bus building the most popular member of the 737 MAX family.

Anyways, Both Boeing and Airbus now have similar firing order for their reengined narrowbody aircraft family. The firing order is now clearly A320neo, A321neo and then A319neo just like Boeing’s 737 MAX that will start with the 737-8 followed by 737-9 and then 737-7 (if not abandoned).

Finally, the order of things becomes normal, the way I like it.

Middle Of The Market

The term “Middle of the Market” is currently discussed all over the place. As you already know, the trend in the short and medium range travel pushed the aircraft to grow slightly bigger. Very often it is just to push the unit cost down. the other reason is because traffic volume increases.

Consolidation

You still remember that there has been an important consolidation in the air transport industry in the US. United merged with Continental to become United, American Airlines merged with US Airways to become American Airlines and Delta merged with Northwest Airlines to become Delta.

With those mergers, obviously there are routes that must be consolidated too. This network restructuring will obviously change the air transport topology in the US. I can’t see it otherwise. It also means that the “production means” (that is the fleet composition) must be adapted to fit the new reality.

It won’t happen overnight and that’s the challenge of all fleet planners in the North America today. Many decisions taken today will define the airlines’ profitability in the future.

Considering this new situation, I am intimately persuaded there is enough market for a Middle of the Market aircraft. In addition, I am intimately persuaded the C Series will play an important role in this transformation.

Market Demand Versus Offering

I have a very experienced colleague and friend who tells me that the solution for world fleet is not unique. Even the solution for an optimized fleet can be multiple. I fully agree with him and that is exactly why when you are an aircraft manufacturer you need to understand the market. Today, the situation is relatively dynamic. It is then important for any aircraft manufacturer to show the solution that would fit its best interest while respecting the airlines’ needs.

As you can understand, this exercise needs a lot of time and also needs a lot of data. In addition you need the right expertise to process all that information. I concede, from airline’s perspective it is difficult to define the “optimum” fleet, because many cost cuttings and restructurings removed the means that the fleet planning department enjoyed in the past.

How Does Mom Fit Into This New Paradigm?

Let us consider the situation in the US only. Due to the three mega mergers and the pilot shortage, I have the strange feeling the MOM market will grow in the next 10 years.

Let us take the example of Delta’s network in the North America (that you can download here). It is highly likely tat the most cost effective way is to connect destinations by direct flight when the traffic volume allows them to do so.

How about the destinations with low traffic volume? The most appropriate solution would be to bring those traffic to the closest hub and then to dispatch them to the destinations. What if the destination is also a low volume town? Well, you need to connect those destination to the closest hub too. It is possible that MoMs will be needed for those hub-to-hub routes.

Basically what I described above is a superposition of a “star” topology on top of a hub-and-spoke topology. Again, the solution is not unique therefore you need to study the future fleet of your airline carefully. Today’s choice will affect the airline’s life during years, in a good way or in a bad way.

How Many MoMs Are Needed Worldwide?

That’s a tricky question, since there are multiple solutions for the world fleet. It also depends of how the MoM is defined. If it is cheap, robust and efficient, I would not be surprised if the deliveries of 250-ish seater with range up to 5,000 nmi can reach 1,500 units, or even 2,000, until 2037.

Whether Airbus or Boeing considers this number as “big enough” is something we need to follow closely.

CFM Leap-1A

Today, my commute from Mirabel to Montreal has been a kind of shorter, from perception point of view only because the distance has not been shorter. The reason is very simple. It is because the person who carpool with me was very curious and asked things about the principles of performance guarantees. As I told you in a recent post titled “Conversation“, I have the tendency to talk-talk and talk.

Well this person asked a question, so I responded and I talked talked and talked all way back to Montreal. Poor girl!

The very funny thing is that a former British carpooler said one day that my car makes a lot of noise and the noise source is located behind the steering wheel. LOL!

Anyways, the reason of this post is because I am wondering about the fate of the A320neo powered by CFM Leap-1A.

First Flight In May 2015

Let us revisit the timeline of the A320neo equipped by PW1100G-JM. It took off for the first time in September 2014 and got its type certificate in November 2015 or after about 14 months of flight test campaign.

The A320neo powered by the CFM Leap-1A took off for the first time in May 2015, thus I would expect that the certification would come before Farnborough airshow in July this year. Perhaps it can happen as early as in April or in May when the flowers blossom in Toulouse.

Most of the risks have been alleviated by the A320neo with PW1100G-JM, so if the Leap-1A engines behave properly, the flight test process would be much shorter.

It has been quite quiet on the Leap-1A’s front.

How Fast Can CFM Ramp Up?

I do not know anything about how CFM is doing on the Leap program. I am just wondering whether Airbus is committed to repsect the fact the Pratt & Whitney engines will remain as the “lead” engine.

Well, the A320neo powered by PW1100G-JM formally entered into service in January 2016, so there is absolutely no risk the A320neo equipped with the CFM Leap-1A can enter into service earlier. However, we can still ask the question which A320neo will reach 50 aircraft in operation first. Will it be the A320neo with PW1100G-JM engines or will it be the A320neo with Leap-1A?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

Distinctive Look

The 737 MAX took off for the first time yesterday, Friday 29 January 2016. I have been able to watch the highlights of the first flight only this morning.

Today is Saturday, for once I decided to stay lazy in the bed until 8:30 watching the highlights of the 737 MAX first flight. And instead of accelerating my pace in order to go “rowing” in the gym, I am writing this post. Oh well, you have to be a little bit flexible. I’ll row this afternoon or tomorrow.

External Aspect Change

In the video you can immediately recognize the distinctive look of the 737 MAX, compared to the 737NG. The engines are bigger, which is normal, the wingtips are split and the aft fuselage cone is different. I missed to notice the nose landing gear change.

It is clear that someone will be ale to differentiate the 737 MAX from a 737NG. This aspect change is certainly not due to “plastic surgery” for the sake of look. It must have been the outcome of a lot of engineering optimization to achieve the efficiency gain target.

There are more items that have evolved from the 737NG to 737 MAX.

Spoiler By Wire

As you certainly know, the 737NG is not a fly-by-wire aircraft. The 737 MAX introduces a system similar to the one implemented in the 747-8. I do not know how exactly it works, but my understanding is that the spoiler is not anymore directly commanded by pilot inputs, but it will be controlled by a computer that processes the pilot’s input. I guess the computer will be able to better match the spoiler movement with the overall aircraft need. This change is obviously not a very visible change, but it is a significant change nevertheless.

Flight Deck

Please find the flight deck images of the 737NG and 737 MAX using Google images. It is obvious the 737 MAX avionics received a significant change. The 737 MAX has many modifications, both outside and inside, from the version it is replacing.

Obviously, the 737 MAX is a very distinct breed compared to the 737NG. In simple words it looks like Boeing will stay very long time with the 737 MAX in the narrowbody segment.

The Strange Question

The “rupture” with the 737NG is now obvious. Since it now looks like Boeing is going to stay in the market with the 737 MAX during at least another 15 (fifteen) years, my question is what they are going to do during the coming years.

The very first thing that popped into my mind is a possible small twin-aisle development, although I am still wondering whether it would be a major derivative of the 767 or if it would be a full blown development from scratch.

I am also wondering about the “window of opportunity” to launch such a program. Should it be this year or in 2017? After looking into their 2015 earning report, I suspect the window of opportunity will start as early as this Summer for an “authorization to offer” with a formal launch late 2017 or early 2018.

Conversation

You might have noticed that I have a “strange” tendency to communicate with people. And yes, I like to have healthy discussions with people in my blog, in my life in general or even at work.

I could hardly imagine that I was that very shy boy when I was very young. I didn’t talk much back then and I had much difficulty to have a normal conversation with other people, even my late Mother thought I was a little bit retarded because of it. I am very happy it is not the case.

Lunch And Learn

In my work, I organize very casual and informal Lunch and Learn sessions on various topics, like aircraft performance for dummies or Performance Guarantee philosophy. I also invite guest speakers on topics that are not part of my “core business” like air transport route structure.

A Lunch and Learn is organized as follow. You book a big meeting room, you send a meeting invitation to people that might be interested and tell them to bring colleagues who might be interested. The attendees have to bring their lunch because there is no such thing as a free lunch and while the speaker talks, the attendees listen and eat their lunch.

Every and each Lunch and Learn session is an interactive one, so the conversation is always interesting. If you wish it is like this blog, but with some more “meat” because I can talk more openly about things I know.

Conversation With My Readers

This blog is very enriching to me because many readers bring valuable thoughts and information. Time to time, some bring provoking comment and some even send hostile comments that usually go directly to the trash bin.

So, the reason of this blog entry is to discuss about a question asked by one reader in his comment (click here). In his comment, Bill asked the following question.

VV #20 “If I were an airline and someone talks about neo-ready airframe, I would insist on retrofit.”

You have said this a few times. What is your point? I don’t see any retrofit action an airline can take, now.

It is a legitimate question. I did say things about neo-ready airframe engine retrofit many times since years, for instance I mentioned this topic in an entry posted in March 2012 (click here).

So this is my answer to the above question.

One Airbus executive pronounced the term “neo ready” in one of his presentations (click here). It is around 12:35 into the video.

Basically Mr Tom Williams said that there was almost NO differentiation anymore between sharleted-CEO and neo wings. Implicitly, at that specific moment he admitted that the only value added between the sharkleted A320ceo in production starting in 2012 and the A320neo was the engines.

Now, you have two almost identical airframes and yet the sharkleted A320ceo don’t have any possible for retrofit with the new and efficient neo engine. That’s not very attractive situation.

Basically the question is, “Why the heck would you take delivery of sharkleted A320ceo in 2016 if it cannot be retrofitted with the new engines?” Again, if I were an airline or a lessor and if I want to protect my investment, I would ask a value retention guarantee corresponding to a neo aircraft or I would ask for free-of-charge-retrofitability. It is even more important for airlines that have both the sharkleted A320ceo and A320neo.

It is just a question of protecting a huge investment. That’s it that’s all.

PW1100G-JM Permanent Fix Will Be Ready Soon

In the meantime, I read a very interesting piece from ATWonline (click here).

Engines with the fix will start being delivered by the end of the second quarter and the small number of engines delivered before then will be retrofitted with the fix, he said.

So, as I expected the time to fix the issue is about six month as I expressed in one of my comments (click here).

Of course possible slower ramp-up will help to deliver many A320ceo, but do airlines really want those aircraft? If they do, then it is alright, otherwise those aircraft will be delivered with a some kind of concessions or compensations.

It is still unclear when the actual fix will be available. According to my experience, this kind of issue takes a little bit more than six months to fix and to implement the fix. If the issue is only discovered two months ago then you still need about another five months to enter a normal production ramp-up rate.

It is still unclear whether Airbus will store undelivered A320neo or if they will deliver the aircraft anyway with temporary special procedure to prevent any possible damage.

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