I’m back in Amish Country after an eventful trip to Orlando for the annual ISTAT conference. After two days of speeches, several interviews, and one far-too-brief evening of dancing to the ISTAT band, I’m ready to make my life as easy as possible – and ensure some catch-up time with my daughter – by simply dumping some of the contents of my notebook onto this blog, which has been sadly starved in recent days. I’m sure there is a better word to use than dump, but there ya go.
Okay, sticking with the journalistic rule of alphabetizing company names, let’s start with Airbus. Conveniently, chief operating officer, customers, John Leahy was the first manufacturer to take the stage. Two years ago, he was forced to listen to major customer ILFC crank about the A350 design at ISTAT. Apart from a call this year from AVITAS senior VP – and infotainment specialist – Adam Pilarski for Leahy to “retire and stick the next guy with all the headaches” of the consultant’s projected aircraft cancellations (which he says will be “sizeable” and serve to “burst” the current bubble), the Airbus salesman received a pretty good reception as folks are understandably concentrated on the 787 saga right now.
First Leahy addressed some of Pilarski’s comments, saying this may be a cycle but it may not be “as steep a canyon” as previous years. Is there any reason for Airbus to bring a new single aisle aircraft to market before the latter part of the next decade? People are "smoking something" if they say the maker of the A320 really needs to come up with a new narrowbody sooner than now being predicted, in the 2017-2020 timeframe, says Leahy. He admits that, yes, the industry currently has a duopoly in Airbus and Boeing, and it’s “a nice stable duopoly” that will probably be around for quite some time to come.
Leahy is also confident that Airbus' rival will get the 787 program back on track. Speaking to me on the sidelines of the conference, he said that, in developing its 787 Boeing may have fallen into some of the “same traps” as Airbus on the A380 program, with Boeing having a “more extended supply chain”. He says the reported delay basically “says something about how complicated it is to build an aircraft”. There are “Monday morning quarterbacks” that are not familiar with the complexities of this, he adds.
The A350 XWB design, for the record, “is frozen” in terms of the fact that Airbus has “legally binding contracts” with performance guarantees that must be met, says Leahy. It features a large composite panel concept.
"The majority of the A350 XWB fuselage structure is made from CFRP, including the panels, doublers, stringers and typical frames," says Airbus PR. "The panel concept means that additional weight savings are achieved since each of the panels can be optimized in terms of their thickness according to the loads they will bear. The keel beam, centre wing box, belly fairing are also in CFRP."
Airbus PR adds that the wings of the A350 XWB “use CFRP and will be the largest CFRP lift structure, with a total area of 440 square metres. The centre wing box, stringers and spars will be made from CFRP”.
Boeing, meanwhile, is concentrating on getting the 787 flying, bringing the 777F to market, and clearing the 747-8. By now, the airframer’s VP marketing Randy Tinseth’s comments about the 787 program – how it continues to expect power on “sometime in the early beginning of the second quarter”, first flight at the “end of the second quarter” and first delivery “in early 2009” – have made plenty of headlines. You might not agree with this assessment (lord knows enough folks at ISTAT were sceptical), but this is what he said – don’t blame the messenger. Tinseth will speak again on Tuesday at the JPMorgan conference, so stay tuned.
So what about the aircraft of the future? Will the industry see an evolution in future aircraft design? “Well, maybe,” says Airbus VP strategic marketing Philippe Jarry, who floated a number of ideas, including a return to seaplanes for cities within 30 miles of coastal waters, as sea-side populations grow. But if you want to move away from current configurations, you have to have “pretty good reasons to change”, he says. Jarry's speech is definitely worth a look once ISTAT posts it. For its part, Boeing also sees a possible revisiting of the past. Boeing director, airplane development David Anderson says this “might yield ideas leading to” the big environmental gains so desired by airlines.