Three new jets, one air show, and two or three no shows
The lean green flying machines are lining up for first flights this year. But will the bean counters make them pain machines too?
In ascending order of size, the Bombardier CSeries, the Boeing 787-9 and the Airbus A350, are all getting ready for first flight very soon, but only one, the Airbus, has any chance of flying at, or even over, next month’s Paris Air Show.
And Airbus, which recently rolled out a structurally finished A350-900 prototype at Toulouse, 60-80 minutes flight time down the road from Paris, has been exhorting anyone who will listen that it won’t necessarily fly the jet until maybe early July, as it does everything in its power not to stuff up the timely flight testing and entry into production of the 350 seat capacity medium to long haul jet like its rival Boeing did with the 787 Dreamliner.
It’s all about the air craft, not the air show, is the message in Toulouse.
But don’t be surprised if the A350 does make its first flight before the show opens on on 17 June and does make a pass or two above it that day or during the following week.
The next new airliner off the rank, so to speak, will be the initial CSeries 100 jet from Canada’s design and engineering firm Bombardier, which also makes metro cars and heavy rail trains, and is best known in airlines for its line of Dash-8 turboprops, which are extensively used by Qantas through QantasLink.
Make no mistake, Bombardier is serious about selling the CSeries to Qantas, and to Virgin Australia, but it is a tough call.
The CSeries protype has also rolled out of its final assembly hangar near Montreal but Bombardier has been emphatic that it won’t fly until about the end of June or early in July. But it will get quite a bit of attention at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget if as heavily rumored, it announces a break through order for a substantial fleet of the 150-160 seat sized larger CSeries 300 model by Europe’s second largest low fare airline easyJet.
The third new airliner to fly in 2013 will be the second and ‘stretched’ version of the troubled Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the 787-9, which has stretched the patience of launch customer Air New Zealand by being originally promised for late 2010, with the latest guidance being for a delivery around April next year.
This is also a tough call, in that a first flight of the larger capacity and longer ranging -9 is considered unlikely before September. It is coming together in Everett as the various sections of the jet arrive from Boeing’s once lauded but at times broken global supply chain.
What will each of these airliners really mean to travellers?
The A350 line up upsizes the current A330 family by being a wider jet and promising, as does Boeing and Bombardier to significantly reduce emissions, noise, and fuel consumption per passenger per kilometre and cost less to maintain. The promised benefits come from better engines and supposedly lighter composite or non metallic materials, or plastics, as some of them are.
The A350’s following model, the A350-1000 isn’t quite as large as 777-300ERs stuffed full of high density seating, but the first model, the -900, is larger than the current 787-8 Dreamliner, and the -9 stretch, and about the same size as the proposed extra stretched 787-10, except that it will fly a lot further.
Airlines that serve Australia that have ordered versions of the A350 in large numbers are Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Emirates, followed at a distance by AirAsiaX, Hawaiian, United and some of the airlines of China and Korea.
The CSeries is a single aisle ‘small’ airliner family aimed at the 100-150 seat capacity jets the Boeing and Airbus dominated with their lower capacity versions of the 737s and A320/319s, and the Boeing 717, which was the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 before Boeing rebranded it.
Bombardier’s entry into this part of the world market comes just as Airbus and Boeing are abandoning it in favour of single aisle jet families that cover the 150-236 seat range, but its problem is two fold.
Airbus and Boeing astutely concluded that the sub-150 seat segment was in decline, and Brazil’s Embraer group, which is larger than Bombardier, saw the opportunity their departure presented sooner, and have invaded the lower end of it around the 100 seat size with a now well established series of E-jets including the E-190 used by Virgin Australia.
However the advantage of the CSeries 100, about to fly, is that it claims to offer a jet of up to around 130 passengers capacity that will have unbeatable low costs for that size, including from airports that can’t take larger jets, and similarly the CSeries 300, due in a few years time will do that to around 160 passengers. ‘To them’, rather than ‘ for them’, because Bombardier’s comparative claims against everyone else appear to be based on seats packed so tightly that they would offend jurisdictions that prohibit cruel and unusual punishments.
The Bombardiers look great from a passenger point of view provided the bean counters aren’t allowed anywhere near the cabin specifications for those that might get ordered by Australian airlines in the future.
It is the last new jet to fly this year, the Dreamliner 787-9, that is closest to home in terms of relevance. Apart from the Air NZ launch order for the type, Qantas holds keenly well priced options over delivery slots for up to 50 of the variant between 2016 and 2020 which it will have to start confirming later next year as each comes due, or lose that opportunity to buy.
Boeing has for some time advised anyone who inquires that an immense amount of refinement and development of the technology used in the original 787-8s has gone into the -9s. Although the wing remains the same in size, the larger next model Dreamliner will also fly a full load of passengers non-stop across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Sydney, or else!
It would allow Qantas to fly non-stop to Dubai from cities like Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, and onwards to cities in Europe that Qantas has either never served before, or long abandoned. But the payloads would always be lower than those that can be carried in a 777-300ER like those used in conjunction with A380s by its larger business partner Emirates.
There are traffic treaty issues to be resolved to make this work, as there are in relation to persist claims that Qantas long haul has to become viable for the 787-9s to be ordered. But Qantas group CEO Alan Joyce has on several recent occasions said that such expansion of the Qantas that has already been shrunk back in favor of punting Qantas customers onto Emirates code shares is in fact an ambition.
While Qantas contemplates converting its 787-9 options it will also experience the 787-8 in service with Jetstar, as well as being operated to Australia, on current indications, by Qatar Airways, Japan Airlines, China Southern and perhaps even Air-India later this year