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Boeing on the brink (!) of 777 X Super Twin mega sales

When it comes to media strategies, air transport throws up enough weird and whacky campaigns to sustain at least half a season of new Gruen Transfers

 

A350-900 MSN3 on its first takeoff: Airbus photo

Another day, another even bigger story about how many sales Boeing has scored for its evolved 777-X Super Twin.

The message is the same. It is sourced to ‘persons familiar with the deals’ in advance of the Dubai Air Show (17-21 November) where all will be made official.

But why are these stories, which Boeing is quoted as saying it can’t be quoted on, being fed to the media?

Who other than Boeing would know with certainty who the new customers are, and be able to provide such an overview?

It doesn’t make sense that an airline, any airline, that is going to announce such a purchase but perhaps hasn’t quite agreed on the price it is going to pay, is going to give any attention to a media campaign saying what it is going to do before it does it. Airlines do not read newspapers, or consult social media, or blogs like this, when they choose what to buy and how much to pay for it.

Indeed they might get quite annoyed. Maybe Boeing is feeling insecure? That doesn’t make sense either because the descriptions the company has given of the 777-X series do make sense, and in abundance.

The Airbus A350XWB, which is actually flying, and on track to produce an all new design competitor to the Boeing 777-300ER by 2017, will be on the guidances given, ready three years before the largest 777-X, the -9, comes into service in 2020, or maybe 2021.

That model, the A350-1000, is being preceded by the A350-900, which should enter service in the second half of next year, which means by the time 777Xs turn up the new Airbus family will be a more mature product, and quite possibly, close to producing an even larger stretch in a much rumoured A350-1100 model.

For those not interested in the model numbers and other minutiae, this contest can be sloganed down to “the battle of the Super Twins“.

These are new twin engined designs that take the size and range/payload performances of such airliners to seat counts close to or above 400, not in high density configurations that already exist in the current A330 and 777 lines, but three or four class long haul fitouts.

They are the jets that will probably cause Airbus to lift the size of the A380 to somewhere north of 650 seats in multi-class layouts by also increasing its length, and the power of its engines, to deal with the impending crisis in airport capacity in so called mega cities.

There is a very useful and dispassionate examination of the Super Twins contest between the A350-1000 and 777-9X proposal in AirInsight‘s Weekly Review No 92, 29 October, which concludes that on improved lower costs per passenger per kilometre flown, there is nothing between them, despite the former having 50 seats or so less than the latter.  Which may explain why there is so much buzz about an A350-1100 timed to come out when the -9X starts deliveries.

And while Airbus and Boeing shadow box, it is obvious that neither on their own, or in aggregate, are going to produce enough new jets by 2030 to deal with the new demands for air travel from the Middle East to Far East. Both have to be highly successful, and productive, if the benefits of far more fuel and maintenance efficient airliners are to become broadly available.

Which brings us to another development that has been simmering, and at times even boiling, at Boeing since the middle of the last decade. Boeing has an ideological issue with union labour in Washington state, which is what is behind stories like this in relation to the design work on the all important 777-X series.

That conflict isn’t something that most air transport observers outside the US find particularly interesting.  But it becomes more important if it means Boeing hasn’t learned the lessons of the 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 programs when it comes to designers who know what they are doing, and have the precious asset of experience. Or the also painful lessons of having an inexperienced work force that produces jets with brand damaging flaws or can’t even fit the right sized fasteners in the right holes.

To the extent that Boeing may be disconnecting itself from experience and excellence, this could be a more important story than it seems.

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  • 1
    StickShaker
    Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help wondering if this disconnect between the executive levels of Boeing and the real world (ie its workforce) may have started with the move of Boeing headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001 – or maybe the move served to magnify a disconnect that already existed but had been kept in check by the presence of assembly lines and the smell of jet fuel in executive’s faces.

    There is always a semantic and organisational gap between the executive level and those on the shop floor but once that gap includes a geographic separation of hundreds or thousands of kilometres it becomes fertile ground for all sorts of problems.
    Resource companies in Australia that have head offices in capital cities and operations far away in remote locations deal with these issues every day – but that is the way it has always been.

    In contrast, Boeing’s headquarters had always been in the same city as its manufacturing plants since the companies inception more than 80 years ago – moving its headquarters away from Seattle was very new territory for the company (never done before) and they don’t seem to have handled it very well. It seems to be a very poor case of change management. I also struggle to see the benefits of separating the headquarters from the shop floor and I wonder just how many engineers are sitting in the lavish suites on North Riverside Plaza in Chicago.

    While there are no doubt many other variables in the 787 equation I think that moving the headquarters from Seattle to Chicago has made Boeing more vulnerable to 787 type saga’s or/and it has magnified the severity or such issues when they occur.
    Boeing will be determined to keep much closer tabs on the 777X program but having its headquarters in Chicago seems to be a handicap that the company doesn’t want to acknowledge. Boeings failure to recognise the value of its experienced engineers may have been far less pronounced if its executives were still mingling with them on a daily basis.

  • 2
    ghostwhowalksnz
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    StickShaker, it was only The Boeing Company ( the group head office) that moved to Chicago. The Boeing Commercial Airplanes headquarters stays in Seattle. Remember there is a big Boeing plant in St Louis and various other activities around the US

  • 3
    icarus
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Americans it seems have yet to come to terms with unions, decent wages and conditions considering they have “Right to Work states” meaning you have to work for as little as the company is prepared to pay you while the bosses pocket millions annually. Here is America’s very, very lopsided wealth distribution for 2012 and I am sure it deteriorated even more since then: This is definitely a plutocracy

    2012: The top 1% of people in the US owns 43% of America’s financial wealth,
    4% own 29 %, 15 % own 21%

    and ——————-80% share 7%!——————–
    http://theunderstatement.com/post/3999331289/us-wealth-distribution-visualized.

  • 4
    Joe Smith
    Posted November 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    icarus…there is some truth to what you are saying.

    Where are you located though? I don’t think the wealth distribution issue is unique to the U.S.

    Of course, we could all help ourselves by saving/investing/buying local, instead of lining the pockets of wealthy people.

  • 5
    Joe Smith
    Posted November 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    icarus…furthermore, your link actually works against your point…

    Quote from the link…

    ” I just started examining the source data and the first thing to catch my eye is that this distribution from 2007 is actually not that different from what it was in 1983. The distribution between the top 1%, the next 19%, and the bottom 80% in 1983 was 43% – 48% – 9%, and in 2007 it was 43% – 50% – 7%.”

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