PHOTOS: Twin-aisle narrowbody is a piece of cake


If the contest for Republic Airways Holdings’ narrowbody order had not been a contest, and merely involved a creatively financed, unchallenged arrangement between the US carrier and Bombardier, then it is safe to say that the aviation industry would not exactly be buzzing about the CSeries, and Airbus and Boeing would not be evaluating the resilience of their current narrowbody hives.

But the competition for Republic’s business was real. Bombardier pitted its 110- to 130-seat Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500G geared turbofan-powered CSeries against members of the most successful narrowbody programmes in history, and emerged triumphant, with a firm order for 40 CSeries CS300s plus 40 options, which when coupled with previously secured firm orders and options from Lufthansa and Irish lessor LCI equates to a total of 180 CSeries commitments.

So begins my new feature about the CSeries entitled ‘Suddenly Serious’, which is running in this week’s Flight International pre-Farnborough issue, the one we affectionately call ‘the fattie’ due to its sizable girth. My feature looks at why Bombardier’s CSeries is now a real threat to Airbus and Boeing’s narrowbody families, and what the two airframers are doing about it.

Boeing expects to make a final decision this year on re-engining the 737 or opting for a clean-sheet replacement of its narrowbody family, while Airbus is formally evaluating the P&W geared turbofan with CFM International’s Leap X high-bypass turbofan under a proposed new engine option (NEO) for the A320. Airbus does not envisage any all-new single-aisle being viable before 2025.

pretty cseries.JPGBut will new engines fitted to current models be enough to counter the CSeries threat? And should Airbus and Boeing give some serious thought to really changing up the cabin design by offering a twin-aisle configuration?

That I even dare to ask the question might seem crazy to some. After all, airlines all over the world are refurbishing aircraft – or plan to do so – in order to pack more  3+3 rows into their A320s and 737s, certainly not less.

“On a 150 seat airplane at one-class configuration such as JetBlue, eliminating 25 seats instantly increases CASM by 16.6%. Ryanair would lose 32 or 33 seats, depending on which side of the aircraft is affected. This would be a 17.4% boost in CASM. American Airlines on its higher-density 737-800 would see a 16.6% increase in CASM. The airlines simply are not going to accept this kind of CASM increase plus the revenue loss,” notes industry expert Scott Hamilton.

But for argument’s sake, let’s just say there exists some airlines that want a more passenger pleasing aircraft – one that can accomplish faster turn times than a single-aisle plane – and are willing to sacrifice some capacity to do so. We actually don’t have to walk too far down memory lane to discover that airframers have considered meeting these carriers’ wishes.

Indeed, it wasn’t very long ago that Boeing was mulling twin-aisles configurations for its 737 successor. At the Paris air show in 2005, Boeing’s Alan Mulally (now of Ford fame) said apropos a 737 replacement that a new family could have “three different fuselages, with one or two aisles, and be any size between 80 and 220 seats”.

An avid aerospace industry observer and media specialist says:

“Boeing received patents in late 2004 covering a small twin-aisle layout accommodating from less than 100 to 200 pax, shortly after which it put out a statement: ‘There is no significant activity at Boeing in support of this particular configuration at this time…’ (which is the same as Nixon saying, as he did: ‘No member of White House staff presently employed…’).

“I believe the patent Includes 2 + 3 + 2 formation in a 14-row, two-class cabin, which results in a low-fineness ratio (ie stumpy) A318-or-worse look at the bottom end (98 seats). Now, remembering the Boeing mantra about 20% steps between variants and you get a family of 98-, 119-, 140- (or 147-), and 168- (or 175-), or even 203- (or 210) seat capacities.

“Forget another Boeing mantra – the one about aircraft not getting bigger – and sacrifice the market for the smallest two variants to Bombardier and Embraer (and the other wannabes), add a (new) fourth variant a la 737/A320 families to get 238 (or 245) pax, which oh-so-neatly covers the stretched 757 cabin capacity, and, hey presto, you feed straight into the 787 market (even I think replicating the previous 757/767 payload/range overlap….).”

None other than former ILFC head Steven Udvar-Hazy has stated that the next generation of narrowbodies may not be a single-aisle design.

Here’s why:

“The 2-2-2 six abreast twin aisle has a very pronounced marketing advantage compared with a 2-3 or 3-3 layout – no middle seats.  Additionally, passenger loading and deplaning should be much quicker with a twin-aisle which helps significantly in aircraft utilization in the short-haul market with several flights daily,” notes a major US airline pilot, who is following the twin-aisle narrowbody conversation with gusto.

But long before Mulally and Udvar-Hazy’s comments – a full 23 years before – Boeing was flogging an idea for a totally new design for a short-/medium-range airliner, called the 7J7.

Boeing 7J7.JPG

In the 18 June 1987 issue of Flight, our own David Learmount wrote:

7J7 2.JPG“Boeing’s new design depends completely upon the primary benefit which propfan engines bring; the huge leap in fuel efficiency. Put simply, the 7J7 is planned as a short, fat, and therefore aerodynamically inefficient hull which provides a dream of efficiency and desirability inside. The spotlight is directed on the twin-aisle cabin, because the combination of low fuel prices and propfan properties has ensured that noone is worried about the hull’s turbulent wake.

“…The fact that the 7J7 still is not actually launched, and that Boeing continues to sound its potential customers’ reactions to the new idea which has been formulated from what they say they would like, illustrates the commercial care which the manufacturer is taking.”

So what was happening on the other side of the pond at this time? Well, Airbus had just flown its A320 for the first time a few months earlier in February 1987 and the jetliner was selling like ice-cream at a town fair. But not all carriers were excited by what was then on formal offer from Airbus or Boeing (the 7J7 had not been launched).

Jan Carlzon, then chief of SAS (which was shopping around for its DC-9 replacement) wasn’t exactly jazzed about the cabin layouts of either aircraft. In his book ‘Moments of Truth’, published two years earlier in 1985, the charismatic Carlzon wrote:

“How would I explain to our passengers that SAS shall invest hundreds of millions in the purchase of new 737 or A320 aircraft, if the only new feature is a line down the full length of the cabin only with middle seats in a triple, where nobody wants to sit?”

Carlzon had his own idea of what his passengers wanted, suggesting that the DC-9 fuselage be turned around 90°, from vertical to horizontal, so that the cabin is wider and can go 2+2+2 for a Passenger Pleasing Plane (PPP) or P3 (P-cube). Was the 7J7 a result of Carlzon’s musing?

Rather than settle for something else, Carlzon “decided to vamp up SAS’s old DC-9s with a full-scale refurbish, and added on a significant number of factory new MD-80 Series, on the appreciation that – in the absence of an all-new PPP aircraft (2+2+2) – the (2+3) could be used as is, if holding back selling the middle seat in the triple except on high time flights if need be, leaving it up to the customer to decide whether he’d prefer to accept a middle seat in a triple and depart now, or wait for a less congested flight next morning”, notes former Airbus salesman Morten Müller, who says he had been tasked by his Airbus bosses to sell A320s to Carlzon at the time.

Inspired by Carlzon’s book – which he translated to French in 1986 – and ultimately with an eye on securing a big A320 sale, Müller says he researched the A320 cross-section, and came up with what he claims is his own idea, the so-called A320H PPP in (1+2+2) configuration, and showed it via a hand-sketched drawing to Airbus’s then VP of sales. I wrote about his concept in December 2009.

“My idea was: we can’t make it 2+2+2 as Jan wanted because you’d need some 0.7″x2 + 42.5″x3 + 19″x2 = 166.9″ trim-to-trim but using what we had available, i.e. A320 Series, we only had 146.4″ trim-to-trim, so by removing one seat from the 3+3 count of six abreast single aisle, and re-arranging to 1+2+2, we basically could offer all the passenger pleasing cabin criteria, but with five seats,” says Müller.

Müller claims that any disturbances to Airbus’ efforts to step up production of the A320 (such as redesigning the A320 cabin to make it meet Carlzon’s demands) were perceived negatively by Airbus strategists, and the idea was killed.

He also claims that the Airbus patent office went through the trouble to try arrange securing a patent (with Morten Müller as “Inventor”) with this idea, “but dropped it when they found out that Lockheed had installed twin aisle five abreast seating in the SuperConstellation cabin)”.

(On an aside, I wonder what this says about aircraft cabin layout/configuration patents holding water, since airframers are always looking at what they can do inside the tube.)

In any case, Müller says he left Airbus in April 1991. And this, dear reader, is the point where the cake makes its entrance.

Carlzon needed 80 aircraft for DC-9/MD-80 replacement, and SAS partner ConCarlzon 6.JPGtinental Airlines (under Ch 11) needed 100 aircraft for its combined 737-727 fleet replacement. Müller claims he envisioned an arrangement whereby a Scandinavian Consortium would buy 180 green Airbus aircraft, and fit them with PPP cabin features (and indeed it seems a so-called A321 PPP proposal of this kind was made…the details being rather unimportant at this time).

To get Carlzon’s attention, Müller says he orchestrated a party to celebrate both Carlzon’s 10 years as CEO of SAS and his 50th birthday. Furthermore, he says he commissioned the creation of a A321H PPP marzipan and sugar cake from Maître Pâtissier-Confiseur René Pillon with a cake cover (marked PPP) of almond nougat.

The photo at the top of this blog, to the right, and the ones directly below show the cake (and yes, that gray-haired man is Carlzon). All
photos are courtesy of Müller.

Carlzon 1.JPG

Carlzon 4.JPG
To underscore the value proposition (of which you can learn more here Farnborough Issue A321HQR vs A321 (3+3) bis.doc) the cake had cargo – a chocolateparfait hidden in a little drawer.

Ultimately, Müller’s own vision was never realized. But it hasn’t stopped the man from trying. Müller is a persistent son of a gun (and frankly, he can be exacerbating at times…nothing he doesn’t already know). He has probably contacted more than one RWG reader with emails about his ideas for twin-aisle cabin layouts for both the A320 and 737. But I, for one, am sufficiently fascinated to write this blog.

I reached out directly to the now 70-year old Jan Carlzon last week, and he said only, “[I] have no idea about what you call Morten´s design. I know he was one of very few in the aircraft industry who was enthusiastic about my PPP-proposal.”

But back to the subject at hand. Is a twin-aisle narrowbody viable or is it a half-baked idea? The concept of a clean-sheet, twin-aisle narrowbody is “possibly an oxymoron given historic definitions”, notes our avid industry observer. And, in fact, if we’re talking successors to the A320 and 737s, a twin-aisle fat-body (or ‘fattie’ if you will, ahem) might be more appropriate a definition.

I wonder, though, if in addition to offering the A320 NEO, Airbus should offer the TAO (twin-aisle option) to operators of current A320 family aircraft – carriers that truly want to differentiate themselves from the squash-as-many-seats-in-the-bus crowd.

At the end of the day, speaking generally, “everything is doable”, says Avitas senior vice president Adam Pilarski. “The question is economic. So, is there a penalty for two aisles? Yes. It works when you kind of bifurcate the traffic. Business people fly in 38in pitch and get meals and pay $2,000 and then others pay $250 for 30in pitch. But you can do anything.

“I am positive both Airbus and Boeing are doing research. They always do. It doesn’t mean much. That’s why they have wonderful engineers who sit there, pick their navels and come up with weird stuff.”

But technically, he adds, it’s “a piece of cake”.

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14 Responses to PHOTOS: Twin-aisle narrowbody is a piece of cake

  1. Jetcal1 July 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Rotate the seats 90 degrees, and use the new Luftie seats from your article earlier this month and you can get the new high desnity seats.

    Of course, a little research shows you’ve been there done that.

  2. Mary Kirby July 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Are you saying that we’re on top of things here at RWG? :0) If so, why thank you.

  3. Frequent Traveller July 12, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Pending freight rates, cabin factors and ticket sales price dilutions, the spread-sheet A321 (3+3) vs H21QR shows us that travelling human individuals may well count less to air transporters than eg perishables, car spares, pharmaceuticals, fruit, flowers, frozen or chilled seafood, hightech freight (iPhones, DVDs,…), fashion, bestseller hits etc, to the point when the transporter really couldn’t care less about the way in which we humans are being transported, ie shoe-horned into our skinny cushion, short-pitched triples and kept us belted up there like sardines in a box until they let us unjam one after the other to get out into fresh air, contributing hardly a nickel to the transporter’s yield because we’ve been spoiled by LCC … why, I quite understand the transporter who prefers freight : it pays up hard cash and it doesn’t complain !

  4. Dave July 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Good lord Kirby, this is like a damn book… Anyways, getting to the important question, how was the cake and marzipan?

  5. Frequent Traveller July 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm #

    I also understand why LCC are not trained to pay full attention to cabin pax-appeal : if you can buy forward a Gerona – Torp ticket at 14.99 euros, you factually serve a higher purpose : you are one out of hundreds of thousand other adventurous new age globetrotters who are impelled to travel from their homes located somewhere to a tertiary newborn airport located nowhere, Gerona or Torp. Here you’re massed up and kept waiting two hours until departure, to make sure you leave 114,65 euros in Gerona, plus 273.20 euros in Torp, in the coffee-shops, in the Boutiques, at the long stay car-park, in Airport Taxes, at the Restaurants, at the Duty Free … on the whole at the Commercial cluster which has popped out of this nowhere, where construction costs by the way are minimal, forming a hush-hush financial conglomerate wherein mixes the direct interests of the … LCC !! through an intricate set of profit-sharing agreements and tax-retrocessions etc, to whom the fascination of the LCC offer serves factually as a “Produit d’Appel” to attract the adventurers to this shopping center. In total, to the LCC, you are not so much a “travelling individual” as you are a gullible shopper-to-be with plentiful of cash in your pockets, after all : 1 – you’re on holidays, OK ?, and 2 – you only paid 14.99 euros for the trip, so what the heck ?? Majors who are forced from market pressure to line up to the LCC but who fail to see the shroud complexity, the hard and cold economic gamble behind the LCC approach are climbing up to tie the knot at their own scaffold…

    Better play differentiation tactics and try to get away with it, eg going twin aisle, with top cabin pax appeal and quick airport rotation, with extra freight contributing to the yield to pay up in compensation to the ticket sales price dilution as a result of competition from LCC !

  6. Courtney July 13, 2010 at 12:00 am #


    This is an absolutely fascinating read! You’re 2 for 2 today.

    I was just thinking the other day about how badly we need a sequel to Hard Landing by Thomas Petzinger Jr. So many stories have happened inside the industry that I would spend big money to read about. You, my dear, have the gift and passion for airline history and simply must write an insider’s take on the major deals of the industry over the past 2 decades.

    9/11, the RJ, Major Bankruptcies, American takes TWA, America West takes over Airways, Airways tries to take over Delta, Delta takes over Northwest, government bailouts, regional bailouts, strikes, the list goes on!

    Let me know when you’re ready to start so I can pre-order.

  7. Frequent Traveller July 13, 2010 at 4:09 am #

    Maître René Pillon, Confiseur-Pâtissier of Toulouse, France was parmi the best in his art. Today he’s retired, but Maison Pillon still exists. For the cake, I heard the Parfait was perfect, and the almond nougat (from the PPP cake cover) as well. Yet, to get a fully relevant answer to your question, Dave, RWG could contact either Janne himself, or Harald, or Aage, or [ unnamed ] or the Executives from Hydro Aluminium or L. M. Ericsson who also attended the June 5th, 1991 celebration. For the marzipan and sugar cake itself, ie the A321 PPP 1/8th scaled cabin section, I reckon Janne took it to the SAS executive office at Arlanda, where he kept looking at it until the whole thing grew stale, somewhen in September of 1991… a sad end for a superb ‘piece of cake’ ?

  8. Paul July 13, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    I loved this article, Mary! Awesome work, as usual. :)

    As an “avgeek” the notion of a re-engined 737 completely bores me! I really hope Boeing goes for a clean-sheet design. I remember a quote a few years ago where Herb Kelleher said if Boeing would make a 737-sized plane with the efficiencies of the 787, that Southwest would order “hundreds of them.”

  9. Mary Kirby July 13, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    Paul and Courtney, thanks so much!

    This was definitely a fun one to write. Not sure if I’ve got time to squeeze in Hard Landing 2, though :)

  10. Frequent Traveller July 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    If Boeing decides to go for a clean sheet design in the near term, for EIS 2017-2018 ?, such an aircraft will incorporate all maturing technology advances available up until 2014-2015 (when the production blue-prints will need to be frozen)… and experts doing technology outlook can’t see so much of the leapfrogging stuff coming through the pipe between 2010 and 2015, except possibly some ‘intermediate’ advances on the powerplant front plus (to please Mary) lotsa snazzy stuff on the IFEC front, of course.

    But if in parallel, Airbus (or some offspring tbd swarming away from Airbus) launches a TAO aircraft, A320HQR Series or A320HP3 Series, for which the EIS could happen ‘overnight’ by 2014-2015 (it’s a piece of cake, Adam Pilarski said) as now the 737HQR (it seems the 737HP3 can’t happen, there is not sufficient head clearance) doesn’t quite meet the TAO primary design target which is 17′ – 23′ PLANNED shorter ground turn-around time (737NG IS a bulk-loaded aircraft so whether (3+3) or (1+3+1), it REMAINS a bulk-loaded aircraft, it can’t be helped) you only get the TAO upperdeck bonus, underfloor you’re bottlenecked from clipper-age bulk handling, you’re kind of limping, which makes the A320H a better horse to bet on in a TAO race, Boeing will need to seriously consider the clean sheet design avenue, or they lose hold completely of their ‘bread n’butter’ SMR Feeder market. But 2017-2018 is premature, so Boeing would need to come up with a second clean sheet design in the 2027-2032 timeframe when all the really enticing new toys have matured. Whereas Airbus can safely sit back and play vamp-up tactics – with TAO/NEO/LWO or TAO/NEO/SFO or other combinations – until time is ripe : then they’ll do their ( ONLY ONE ! ) clean sheet design : in summary, a shot at TAO tactics if played out from Airbus, being a kind of Achille’s heel, a point of vulnerability, to Boeing, could set Albaugh off limping… unless “Boeing engineers pick their navels and come up with some weird stuff”, a modular Meccano-type design ?, to cope with the need to incorporate a series of pep-up “packages” over 2027 – 2032 to stay in the race with clean sheet design n° 1 ? Hard nut – or yet another ‘piece of cake’ ?

  11. Frequent Traveller July 15, 2010 at 4:35 am #

    (provided you read French ?) The longitudinal/transverse 16G engineering challenge has been conceptually solved with a proposal (intended for MOL) acronymized as the “PFYUH” box, the “QDBAB” box, the “GPB” box … all of which are VLCC concepts in the Design Q style, see

  12. Frequent Traveller July 15, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    Here’s a tag linking to a shoulder-to-shoulder presentation of CS Series vs H20QR Series/FT

  13. Frequent Traveller July 15, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    You may also want to look at this Comparison @ this other Blog of Actualités Aéronautiques, centered on Bombardier’s CS Series :


  14. Frequent Traveller July 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    The H20 Series (QR or P3) Twin Aisle Feeders, more than ‘a piece of cake’ are :

    - quoting Hägar the Viking lecturing his grandson in one of Dyk Browne’s comic strips :[ picture one, showing a cake ] “young boy, life isn’t necessarily about choosing between one piece of cake OR some other piece of cake” … [ picture two, showing two cakes ] “life could also be to enjoy the pleasure at the same time of a first piece of cake AND of a second piece of cake” UNQUOTE – (NB : a permission to show the referred Dyk Browne’s 2-drawings strip has been sollicited with King Features Syndicate, reply in abeyance) : the H20 Series is actually TWO AIRCRAFT in one, the UPPERDECK cabin AND the UNDERFLOOR cargo compartment;

    - the H20 Series is a ‘CAVIAR’ ! [ this word - in European footballistic terms - means the absolute PERFECT PASS from a mid-field player to a forward player, who takes control of the ball and ... SCORES !!! ] : meaning that Majors who are being attaqued by RJ on the THINNER SMR Feeder routes, plus by LCC on ALL SMR Feeder routes, can now pick up the H20 Series Twin Aisle Feeders, the ‘CAVIAR’ pass, at the right time and the right place in the market, and plying the H20 Seies Majors can enfin SCORE and WIN !