By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
Big aerospace events often bring big announcements: new airplane launches, massive orders for aircraft.
Neither is expected at the Farnborough International Airshow outside London, which begins Monday and runs through July 15.
That said, the Boeing Co. will have a good story to tell prospective customers. An Everett-built 787 Dreamliner, which has been generating positive buzz now that the plane is in commercial service, will be on display and flying. And the company will be selling the 737 MAX, the re-engined and updated new version of the venerable single-aisle plane built in Renton, which is in development.
In contrast, European rival Airbus has little new to show at Farnborough, having dominated the headlines a year ago.
Analyst Scott Hamilton, in an air show preview for Issaquah-based Leeham Co., said neither Airbus nor Boeing will make the kind of orders splash Airbus made last year at the Paris Air Show, which is held on alternating years with Farnborough.
In Paris, Airbus announced 667 commitments and orders for the A320neo (new engine option). The European jet maker had launched the re-engined single-aisle A320 about six months before, so that pushed the total number of requests for the A320neo to well over a thousand.
Hamilton thinks it’s highly unlikely Airbus will log a similarly spectacular number of A320neo announcements at Farnborough.
On the single-aisle jet front, Farnborough belongs to Boeing and its new president of commercial airplanes. Ray Conner was named in late June when Jim Albaugh announced his retirement.
Conner’s “first challenge will be firming up the MAX orders,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said in an interview.
Like Airbus and the A320neo, Boeing has hundreds of commitments from airlines for the 737 MAX. Conner needs to convert those tentative agreements into firm orders. Farnborough is the place to get started.
Boeing’s and Conner’s longer-term challenge is to determine whether to go ahead with the twin-aisle 787-10X and 777X, Aboulafia said.
Despite rocky, much-delayed beginnings, the 787 is living up to Boeing’s hype heading into Farnborough. In June, Dreamliner launch customer All Nippon Airways published results of a survey of 787 passengers in which they touted the jet’s creature comforts. More importantly, ANA indicated that the 787s are beating, albeit slightly, the fuel efficiency promised by Boeing.
Early-delivered 787s were heavier than what Boeing planned and don’t have the latest, most-fuel-efficient version of engines designed for the Dreamliner. The bottom line on 787 fuel efficiency: “We expect it to get better,” said Mike Flemming, vice president of 787 services and support.
At an air show briefing last month, Boeing officials Fleming and Nicole Piasecki, vice president of business development, noted that progress on the 787-9, which seats 40 more passengers than the 787-8, is going well. The 787-9 is due out in early 2014.
However, Piasecki spoke most highly of the version of the Dreamliner that Boeing has yet to offer, the 787-10X. That plane is expected to be the largest Dreamliner, seating between 300 and 350 passengers.
“This airplane will be a great, very-low-cost people mover,” Piasecki said of the 787-10X.
Despite Boeing’s enthusiasm, analysts think it’s unlikely the Chicago-based company will announce the launch of the 787-10X at Farnborough. Instead, Boeing officials will continue to gauge customer opinion.
Until recently, Boeing seemed more focused on updating the Everett-built 777 in a version known as the 777X. But the 787-10X has a more “straightforward statement of work,” Piasecki said.
The only Airbus jet that’s even close to the same seating capacity as the 777X, between 350 and 400 passengers, is the A350-1000. Airbus has just 62 firm orders and is perceived as being uncertain on the A350-1000 design. That has allowed Boeing more time to understand what customers expect of the 777X, which eventually would replace the popular 777-300 Extended Range aircraft. Still, with customers like Emirates pushing for an updated 777, “at some point, we’ve got to be responsive,” Piasecki said.
Scott Fancher, general manager of the 777 program, gave little away about the 777X, though the company has said it’s considering composite wings and new engines. However, Fancher did say that moving from the existing 777 production system to the 777X is important to Boeing.
Assembly on both the 787 and 777 lines are going to be key going forward. Boeing’s in the middle rate increases on both, from seven to 8.3 777s monthly in Everett and up to 10 787s monthly in Everett and North Charleston, S.C., by the end of 2013.
“This industry has been starved for widebody product,” Piasecki said.
That pent-up demand and limited supply affects jet orders. Over the next 20 years, Boeing expects the world’s airlines to need 7,950 aircraft in the 787 and 777 size range.
“As we look out, we will be investing as much in our production system” as in new technology, Piasecki said.
Joining Boeing at the air show will be a delegation of suppliers and officials from Washington state led by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org.