The downturn in aerospace stocks won’t halt Boeing and Collins Aerospace from investing in new commercial aircraft technologies, executives from those manufacturers said on 5 March during discussions at the US Chamber of Commerce aviation summit in Washington, DC.
The aviation industry has proven adaptability and will continue to innovate through the double crises of the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the coronavirus outbreak that is driving a downturn in air transport demand, says Collins Aerospace president Stephen Timm during the conference.
“This will be a blip – it’s a serious blip that we have to deal with today,” Timm says.
Boeing and Airbus are the largest customers of Collins, a subsidiary of United Technologies that built the flight deck displays for 737 Max aircraft and contributed work for the automated flight control software on those aircraft. These automated flight controls contributed to two fatal crashes, and Boeing is coordinating with the US Federal Aviation Administration to certificate 737 Max aircraft as safe to return to service.
As regulators scrutinize new autonomous technologies for air travel Timm says “we’re going to take a very pragmatic approach” during certification to ensure safety. Autonomy is becoming increasingly relevant for the fuel efficiency and safety of air travel but “for the foreseeable future you will see a pilot in command”, Timm says.
Budgets for innovation or new aircraft face an uncertain year in 2020. Airlines globally during 2020 could lose between $63 billion to $113 billion in revenue as governments try to contain the coronavirus outbreak, IATA reports. That financial hurt adds to the lost revenue faced by airlines with grounded Max aircraft in their fleets.
The grounding of Max aircraft contributed to a loss of $636 million for Boeing during the full year 2019, compared with the $10.5 billion profit in 2018. Even if Max aircraft are cleared to return to service in mid-2020 as Boeing asserts, the downturn in air transport demand could hinder aircraft purchases.
Despite this financial hurt, Boeing chief executive of commercial airplanes Stanley Deal says during the conference “we haven’t stopped innovating”, alluding to a new aircraft programme.
“By definition we are going to continue to extend our product line,” Deal says. “We’re very serious about a product that will be somewhere between the Max 10 and the [Boeing 787].”
The Chicago-based airframer’s original draft for a New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) called for a range of 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) with 270 seats for airlines to replace ageing Boeing 757 and 767 fleets. Boeing’s newly-appointed chief executive David Calhoun has said the airframer intends to challenge Airbus with a new aircraft programme and is reevaluating what the NMA should be.
“We have a lot of things to do to bring the Max back, but we are still making investments in the future,” Deal says.