The future of travel to emerge from Farnborough Air Show

July 16, 2018
Airbus planes at the Farnborough Air Show

Farnborough 2018, which started today, will play out against a backdrop of fascinating dynamics that could give hints of how the next several decades in commercial aviation are going to shape up.

Both aerospace giants, Boeing and Airbus, are flying into the bi-annual air show at full throttle. The show, south-west of London, attracts 100,000 trade visitors over its six days.

Boeing has had a bumper year thus far, picking up key sales wins with its 787 and all commercial aircraft programs on track for deliveries and development.

Airbus has had a quieter year in sales but is picking up speed with an order for 60 of its new joint-venture 141-seat A220. AirAsia is expected to order hundreds of Airbus planes.

The A220 is the result of a collaboration with Canada’s troubled Bombardier C Series regional jet. It is now branded as an Airbus product with the full backing of the European giant.

READ: Why I would now fly AirAsia. 

One day after the rebranding ceremony in Toulouse last Tuesday, July 10)Airbus was able to announce an order from US airline JetBlue had ordered 60 of the “new” jets.

In the first few hours of the air show the orders were flowing:

Airbus secured orders from Kuwait’s Wataniya Airways for 25 A320neo aircraft;  Vistara, the New Delhi-based airline signed a letter of Intent for 13 A320neos and Starlux Airlines of Taiwan selected the A350 XWB for its future long-haul fleet, with an MOU for 17 aircraft, comprising 12 A350-1000s and five A350-900s.

Boeing secured; Qatar Airways for five 777Fs; Jackson Square Aviation ordered 30 737 MAXs, and DHL announced an order for 14 Boeing 777Fs, and purchase rights for 7 additional freighters.

Aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show
Boeing’s big sellers the 787 and 737 are expected to feature in order announcements.

The only cloud on the horizon for both manufacturers is engine problems from suppliers.

In the months leading up to Farnborough, Rolls-Royce has been grappling with two durability issues with its Trent 1000 on the Boeing 787, which has left more than 50 planes grounded. and the prestigious British engine-maker with a black eye.

Rolls-Royce is one of two suppliers of engines for the 787. General Electric, the other supplier, which powers the Qantas and Jetstar 787s, has no issues with its power plant.

The problems have prompted Boeing to move in a team of troubleshooters to help Rolls-Royce. work through the problems.

While Rolls is in the hot seat, Pratt and Whitney is only now solving its geared turbofan engine issues for the upgraded A320 series.

Airbus has about 100 new A320s parked in Toulouse or Hamburg production centres awaiting engines. These complex engine snafus go further than just the 787 or A320 deliveries and were also affecting Airbus sales for the 350-seat A350, Richard Aboulafia of the Washington-based Teal Group, said. “It’s a big issue for the Airbus [A350],” Mr Aboulafia said.

He believes airline confidence in Rolls-Royce has been dented and this could hurt sales prospects for the A350 with airlines such as Qantas, which is evaluating the Rolls-Royce-powered A350-900ULR against the new 380-seat General Electric- powered Boeing 777-8X for its Project Sunrise.

Qantas wants a plane to fly from Sydney to London nonstop with 300 passengers by 2022.

Airbus planes at Farnborough
(L:R) Airbus A350, A220 and A330-900

Most analysts say all the engine issues will be solved, but some are questioning the pace of technology upgrades and if they will affect the engine offerings for Boeing’s next proposed offering, dubbed the 797.

That plane will seat between 220 and 270 passengers in an economy cabin cross section of 2-3-2 and fly just 11 hours (9000km) on routes such as Perth to Tokyo. Business class would be 1-2-1 and premium economy 2-2-2.

This plane, which Boeing calls a new mid-size airplane, (NMA) is pitched at what is termed the middle of the market, between the 180-220-seat Boeing 737 — which can fly just over 7000km — and the 300-seat 787, which can fly more than 14,000km. That 787 capability requires a great deal more structure and weight — and thus cost.

All three big engine-makers have just pitched their bids to be part of the 797. But the concept is not new.

Boeing showed a similar cross-section for its 7J7 at the 1989 Paris Air Show. McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, touted the concept in 1981, but at the time airlines were lukewarm on the concept.

Now they are keen to buy because passengers are crying out for more room for themselves and their carry-on baggage — issues the 797 addresses.

Boeing chairman and chief executive Dennis Muilenburg has said he expected the Boeing 797, with a range of 9000km,  would be launched within a year.

He believed the market was for between 4000 and 5000 units.

The company said that there were 30,000 city pairs currently not connected yet by an air service that would be perfect for the 797. From Perth, the 797 could reach any city in Asia or the Indian subcontinent and would be perfect for Perth to Beijing and Perth to Ho Chi Minh City routes.

The headline-grabbing aspect of air shows are the orders. With a slightly lower than usual order flow leading up to Farnborough, analysts were wondering whether the normal number of orders were being saved for the show or whether the market was softer.

: “Are more than the normal number of orders being saved for the air show — or is it a softer market.”

However, one Airbus executive told that “it will be a very busy show”.