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Oct 31, 2013

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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