To listen to British Airways and Boeing describe the "working-together" programme, in which the manufacturer invited an unprecedented degree of customer involvement in the design of its 777, is to hear a remarkable tale indeed; one of serendipity of requirements and almost supernatural harmony between the participants. The concept worked, but conversations with ANA confirm remaining suspicions that it was not quite as elegant as is frequently painted.
The 777 will play a critical role in ANA's defence of its domestic market share, and the airline has spared little effort in honing the aircraft to its requirements - beginning with the engine selection. A senior ANA source reveals that the carrier had settled on the Rolls-Royce Trent 800 for its 777s, when, to ANA's astonishment, British Airways announced that it was spurning the Trent for the General Electric GE90. Concerned about BA's true rationale, ANA re-examined its decision and switched to the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 as the perceived most conservative choice. It is unknown by how much that decision swayed Japan Airlines when it later also picked the PW4000, but it seems certain that the BA move was even more costly for R-R than has been hitherto appreciated.
ANA has, for now, ordered 15 A-market 777s with ten options for unspecified versions. The A-market aircraft, for domestic use, will be configured with 358 economy- and 18 business-class seats and will provide partly fleet-replacement and partly growth. The carrier is "interested" in the proposed, stretched, A-market version, but not so much in the B-market intercontinental aircraft. When the first aircraft arrives in October it will have several features which ANA was largely instrumental in specifying. The airline's manager of 777 engineering, planning and administration, Kazuo Matsuura, notes: "'Working together' takes a lot of resources to keep the programme going, which is why [777 customers] Thai and Emirates were not so interested and, for example, BA and United were."
He continues illuminatingly: "United and ANA agreed on a lot, but BA has a tendency to make the aircraft meet its requirements, which were a bit different. United's experience was brought in by individual engineers going to Seattle. Unlike United, BA could not send their people frequently out there and they put a big team out there - they were good people, but some of them were a bit young."
Both, Matsuura implies, worked differently from the Japanese carriers. He says: "Japanese companies like to have consensus before they say something. We were a little slow in decision-making, but then we went in together. We try to get data together to support something rather than just a feeling of what people said and thought. But the ANA and JAL relationship was interesting - JAL joined a bit later and I think that they were a little bit reluctant to participate afterwards, once the aircraft was configured." He declares, however, that "...overall, it was a success".
Altogether, ANA raised some 500 issues with Boeing, about one-third of which were essentially requests for more information, but the remainder implied some kind of design change. ANA, Matsuura says, was "heavily responsible" for the option of a non-folding wing, warning Boeing that it might not buy the aircraft otherwise. Along with other carriers, it persuaded Boeing to "...jump from the cliff and go for it" in offering the universally popular option of radial as well as bias-ply tyres. It demanded, and got, a slight fuselage-length increase, to improve fuel economy, but was actually more concerned about the aircraft design life. Matsuura explains that, as a short-haul operator, ANA was worried about fatigue life and persuaded Boeing to offer a 44,000-cycle guarantee, rather than the planned 40,000, to support a 20-year life at ANA. No design changes were involved.
Matsuura also tells, of an ANA/United collaboration explaining: "The height from the ground to the fuelling point is considerably higher than on current aircraft. United wanted the point closer to the fuselage so that they could use existing ground equipment; but I didn't want the trucks to hit the aircraft, so we moved it out to the leading edge." Indeed, he says, by far ANA's greatest concerns were with maintainability and reliability.
It is in the field of 777 maintenance that ANA will next break down barriers, with a far-reaching co-operation agreement with JAL which is hoped to save each carrier '8-9 billion ($80-90 million) over five years. It will cover at least the joint purchase of spares and the joint development of training manuals, but other elements have been slower than expected in coalescing. Matsuura explains: "As an industry, we have grown up with different ways of doing business, so it is not an easy dialogue in the field. It is not so easy to merge the two cultures, even though we speak the same language. The authorities have different people to support the two airlines and our documents are different from one company to the other company."