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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?

The CSeries 300 and 100 could replace 717s here. Bombardier graphic.

 

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.

The A350 prototype looking ready to fly at Toulouse recently

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

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  • 1
    Mark Skinner
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “…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…”

    As much as it pains me to support the bean counters, I have to say that it is customers’ predilection to click on a $99 Tiger or Jetstar fare rather than a full fare Qantas $101 that is the reason the cabins will be awful.

    I remember vividly when Tiger was hauled out of the air by the regulator a while back. A customer of theirs was interviewed, and he was asked whether or not their safety record would prevent him from booking, and the answer was: “But their fares are so much cheaper!!”

    Nope, don’t blame the accountants. We, the clickers on single dollar price differences are the cause. Furthermore, no matter how much we actually say we are prepared to pay a bit more for legroom and comfort, premium economy is not a raging success, nor is it hard to get that premium priced exit seat. Those both tell me a lot about the difference between what people want, and what they are really prepared to pay for. The latter is what the accountants are giving us, and we cannot say we have not had options presented to us by the airlines.

  • 2
    patrick kilby
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I can always get a exit row seat (free as a Gold FF), so I agree people whinge about legroom but are not prepared to pay for it, same for PE. As I am getting on I am prepared to trade FF points for better seat in PE(if it is sold on special), but most don’t bother.

  • 3
    Aidan Stanger
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Mark Skinner, premium economy has always been a blatant ripoff. But that doesn’t mean we’re not prepared to pay more for legroom and comfort. If Qantas were usually almost as cheap as its low cost rivals, and had a convenient schedule, and guaranteed comfortable seats, a lot more people would opt for Qantas. Unfortunately none of those things are the case.

    And Jetstar is sufficiently comfortable as long as the aircraft has smooth backed seats

  • 4
    Mark Skinner
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Aidan,

    I have never had any problem getting an aisle or exit seat on Jetstar. Since those are very limited in numbers, I conclude that there are not that many people even prepared to pay a small amount for the extra leg room. If they were prepared to pay that small amount, it would be very hard to get into those limited seats.

    Premium economy as in ‘business class’ in Qantas is indeed a ripoff. However as in ‘star class’ in Jetstar, I am not sure you can sustain the ‘ripoff’ argument.

    And Qantas is in many cases now very close to the Jetstar price. It certainly has a much better schedule than Jetstar or Tiger, so not quite sure what you are getting at here.

    I am not saying that Qantas is any great shakes as an airline, but it does offer competitive pricing, good schedules in most cases and a meal service as well. Yet still passengers will go for a dollar or so cheaper on cheaper airlines.

    I have to accept that if I want a flat bed to Europe, I have to pay for it. Otherwise, I have to go in the accommodation that most people vote for in economy – which is as cheap as possible.

    I think that Juvenal had it right: “Probabtis laudatur…et alget.”

  • 5
    Mark Skinner
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Addendum: I meant ‘domestic business class’ in Qantas. The international biz class is quite another matter. Sorry.

  • 6
    comet
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Why wouldn’t the A350 land at the Paris Air Show?

    It’s gotta land somewhere. Does a newly hatched aircraft need extra ground support that can’t be provided at an air show? Or are they afraid it is so untested that there’s a risk it might crash in front of the crowd? (There have been crashes at the Paris Air Show in the past)

    What about Bombardier’s CSeries? Those aircraft get assembled on the field at Montréal’s busy Pierre Trudeau international airport. How do they conduct a maiden first-flight at a busy international airport?

  • 7
    Aidan Stanger
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Mark, That’s one cnclusion, but other possibilities iniclude most people booking later than you, and the booking procedure for exit seats being unclear.

    Pricing may again be competitive now they’re trying to grab market share back off Virgin, but how long will that remain the case?

    Yes, Qantas has a better schedule than Jetstar or Tiger – but better overall doesn’t always translate into better for a particular person’s needs. And airline food certainly isn’t worth the extra money!

  • 8
    patrick kilby
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Qantas is certianly good value wellmout of fliwhg tie but try the change the day before on domestic and the prices triple. The last 20-30 seats must bring in the same yield as the rest.

  • 9
    patrick kilby
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Oops sorry pressed ‘post’ too soon: Qantas is certainly good value well out of flying time, but try the change the day before on domestic and the prices triple. The last 20-30 seats must bring in the same yield as the rest combined.

  • 10
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Comet,

    The rules and procedures for experimental aircraft, as in one that has not been certified under international rules are very strict.

    Le Bourget is very close to Charles De Gaulle airport, and entering and exiting a fly past, a touch and go, or landing and takeoff are quite constrained and part of the reason why the flying display there always seem to involved a lot of banking turns.

    In the early testing flights the aircraft will demonstrate its touch and go and engine out handling in varying conditions. Le Bourget may not therefore be the best place to do this.

  • 11
    comet
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ben. Thanks for that very interesting explanation.

    In 1973, when a Tupolev Tupolev Tu-144 crashed at the Paris Air Show, it occurred during constrained manoeuvres, though some said the pilots were avoiding a nearby Mirage aircraft, rather than Charles De Gaulle airspace.

    With the A350, it seems that any fly past will have to be fairly high. Bring your binoculars (assuming it flies by that date).

    Airbus seems to have a black hole in its aircraft sizes, with nothing between the A350 and the A380. I wonder if they might one day fill this void with an A360 :)

  • 12
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Comet,

    I remember the day vividly and saw the entire crash sequence while standing beside the head of the BAC in its chalet when it happened who was instantly interviewed using the massive Nagra 1/4 inch tape recorder hanging off my shoulder and then pumped down the line to Sydney after operating on the handset of the nearest telephone with alligator clips.

    I was attached to the ABC Paris office at the time. No-one in the BAC circle nor even my lowly self thought the Mirage was the cause, and I will republish my recollections and reasons for that conclusion soon, since the 40th anniversary of this disaster draws near. CDG opened the following year in March, and this at the time did through its absence give the flying displays more leeway that today.

    The main airport at Paris remained Orly (which is also still by far its most convenient) while Le Bourget was used mainly for services to Africa, including some military charters. I think you’ll enjoy the story when I get around to it.

    Cheers

  • 13
    Andrew Graham
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Ben – what is about you with Accountants ? Surely you don’t believe that it is the finance people alone who are responsible for adding extra rows of seats or turning a 9 abreast into a 10 etc ? I don’t buy it for a minute. The finance teams aren’t those who make the tough pragmatic calls re where a particular airline wants to position its product offering in the market place. That’s a responsibility of executive management. Not the plane maker, the seat makers, the guys who put the seats in the plane, and not the finance people. Also – Interesting how you always call finance people ‘bean-counters’ but pilots aren’t just bus-drivers ??

  • 14
    Glen McCabe
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Ben, Can’t wait to hear your memories of the Le Bourget crash, they’ll be fascinating for sure.
    All can’t wait to fly on any of these new planes… will no doubt have the chance once Air NZ eventually gets its B789s, wonder if anyone will fly an A350 to NZ any tone soon…

  • 15
    comet
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I await with interest to read Ben’s account of the Tupolev crash.

    I can’t imagine the horror of witnessing something like that happen in front of you. One minute everyone would have been wide-eyed in wonderment at an incredible machine, the Russian ‘Concordski’. The next minute it is breaking up mid-air in a ball of flames.

    Ben must be pretty level headed to reach for the Nagra (I remember those things) and start recording an interview. I think I’d be a quivering mess after seeing that.

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