Published on November 15th, 2015 | by Jim Lee0
Commercial aircraft manufacturers round up, Mitsubishi, COMAC, Embraer, Bombardier, Airbus and Boeing
All of the major manufacturers are pressing ahead with major programmes, or increasing production to meet demand, so it is an appropriate time to have a look at the various programmes and look at recent developments. For the sake of convenience, we will look at the various manufacturers, in order of their recent or significant, programme milestones.
The 11th November, the MRJ (Mitsubishi Regional Jet) reached the significant programme milestone with the first flight of the MRJ test aircraft. The MRJ family consists of the MRJ90 (90 seat class) and the MRJ70 (70 seat class). These aircraft have common wings, empennage, engines, and systems. In addition, they have commonalities in pilot type rating, maintenance program, and spare parts. The MRJ is Japan’s first commercial passenger aircraft since the 60-seat YS-11 entered service 50-years ago.
The next-generation MRJ regional jet, test aircraft, an MRJ90STD, JA21MJ (c/n 10001), took off from Nagoya Airport and confirmed its basic characteristics and functionality in ascent, descent and turning in airspace off the Pacific coast during its 90 minute first flight (see video).
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI), will continue to conduct flight tests for the first delivery, scheduled for the second quarter of 2017. The flight tests in the US are scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2016, from the MRJ base at Grant County International Airport, at Moses Lake, in Washington State. The successful flight marks a major step forward for Mitsubishi Aircraft, in fulfilling a pledge to deliver the first MRJ, in June 2017, to Japanese carrier ANA.
“The MRJ successfully took to the sky today thanks to ongoing cooperation and support from all members involved,” said Hiromichi Morimoto, President, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation. “We will make our utmost efforts towards type certificate acquisition, committing all our resources to develop and produce the finest regional jet aircraft to enter commercial service in 2017.”
“Operational performance of the MRJ was far better than expected. We had a significantly comfortable flight,” said Pilot Yasumura, who served as captain.
Demand for 70 to 90-seat class aircraft for the next 20 years is expected to be over 5,000 units, due to the market trend of ‘up-sizing’, from 50-seat RJs. This has led to route-transfers from mainline jets to large RJs as a consequence of high fuel price and low passenger yield. So far the MRJ has secured 223 firm orders from airline operators, most recently in January, when Japan Airlines ordered 32 aircraft. The biggest single order – for 100 aircraft – is from Trans State Holdings, a company that operates three regional US airlines. Going forward, Mitsubishi Aircraft and MHI continue to devote their collective resources towards the successful completion of the MRJ project. Mitsubishi has high hopes for its MRJ with ambitions to supplant Bombardier, as the world’s second biggest maker of smaller passenger jets, behind Embraer.
On 8th November, at the Dubai Airshow, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft announced that the CS100 aircraft flight test programme was close to 100% complete, and the aircraft was on track to for certification this year with Transport Canada. Bombardier had the CS100 on static display at the show, together with a, Q400 turboprop, CRJ900, Learjet 75, Challenger 350 and Global 6000 aircraft, with all six aircraft being co-located on static display. Unfortunately, although new airline designs are prone to long delays and cost overruns, the development of the CSeries has been particularly difficult and has severely dented the manufacturer’s balance sheet. We will look more closely at Bombardier and the CSeries in a separate piece (see here), but suffice to say that neither the programme or the company are out of the woods yet.
COMAC (the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China)
Just days before the Mitsubishi Regional Jet made its first flight, China’s first indigenous designed passenger jet aircraft, the COMAC C919 (B-001A), rolled off COMAC’s final assembly plant near Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The roll-out ceremony on 2nd November was attended by roughly 4,000 government officials and representatives of foreign program partners. The C919, which can seat between 158 and 174 passengers, is meant to compete in the market for single-aisle jets, dominated by Airbus with its A320 family and Boeing with the 737. Dimensions of the C919 are very similar to the Airbus A320, possibly to allow for a common pallet to be used. Its fuselage is 3.96 metres (13 feet) wide, and 4.166 metres (13 feet, 8 inches) high, producing a cross-section of 12.915 square metres (139 square feet). The wingspan is 33.6 metres (110 feet, 3 inches), or 35.4 metres (116 feet, 3 inches) if winglets are included. Its range is expected to be just over 5,555 km (3,000 nm).
C919 development began in 2008 with the first flight now planned for 2016. At the roll-out, COMAC chairman Jin Zhunaglong said that the aircraft should make its maiden test flight in 2016, but he declined to specify a scheduled date for this. Other COMAC officials are more cautious with unnamed official being quoted as saying that they are still a long way off from having a complete aircraft ready to fly. Foreign program partners are even more reticent saying they are not permitted to comment on the shifting timeline for the program.
COMAC had said in May 2014 that first delivery would be in 2018, but has since declined to update that outlook. Indeed, the subject was not mentioned at the roll-out ceremony. Executives close to the program say 2019 would be more likely and 2020 possible, but no one will be reasonably sure until well into flight testing.
COMAC have said that the C919 has secured 517 orders and commitments from 21 customers, including seven Chinese airlines, two foreign carriers and 12 aircraft leasing firms. Among the foreign customers, Thailand’s City Airways has ordered 10 C919s, GE Capital Aviation Services has signed on for 20 and PuRen Airlines, a Germany-based, Chinese-backed start-up has signed a letter of intent for seven aircraft. The big question is whether the Chinese can get the C919 into production, in a timely enough way to meet demand from airlines, that also now have the option to upgrade to the new A320neo and Boeing 737 Max.
In June 2011 COMAC and Ryanair signed an agreement to co-operate on the development of the C919, but since then little or nothing has been heard of any practical co-operation.
Embraer invests in product development
On 27th October, Embraer published its results for the third quarter (3Q15), ended 30th September 2015. Revenues in 3Q15 totalled $1.285 billion (around €1.193 billion), representing an increase of 3.6%, compared to 3Q14, driven by growth in the Commercial Aviation and Executive Jets segments. Revenues in the Defence & Security segment declined 47.5% in the quarter. Year-to-date (YTD), consolidated revenues totalled $3.854 billion (around €3.58 billion), which was down 9.2% from the $4.243 billion (around €3.942 billion), in the same period of 2014.
Gross margin fell from 19.5% in 3Q14 to 17.5% in 3Q15, driven mainly by a cost base revision for certain contracts in the Defence & Security segment, due to the negative impact of foreign exchange variation during the quarter. Gross margin in the first nine months of the year was 19.8%, compared to 21.1% in the first nine months of 2014. This was impacted by the combination of lower revenues compared to last year, negatively affecting fixed cost dilution, and cost base revisions for contracts in the Defence & Security segment.
Embraer delivered a total of 21 commercial and 30 executive aircraft, (21 light jets and 9 large jets), in 3Q15, compared to a total of 19 commercial and 15 executive aircraft (15 light jets), in 3Q14. Over the first nine months of 2015, the Company delivered 68 commercial and 75 executive aircraft (57 light jets and 18 large jets), compared to 62 commercial and 64 executive aircraft (54 light jets and 10 large jets), in the first nine months of 2014.
In 3Q15, Embraer invested a total of $109.8 million (around €101 million) in product development, which was partially offset by contributions from suppliers of $30.4 million (around €28.24 million). These investments are primarily related to the development of the E-Jets E2 program in the Commercial Aviation segment. In the first nine months of 2015, Embraer invested $298.4 million (around €277.19 million) in product development, and received $134.6 million (around €125 million) in contributions from suppliers, yielding net development investments of $163.8 million (€152.16 million).
The development program of the next-generation E2 family of E-Jets continued to progress as expected during the quarter. Embraer is assembling the first of its E2 regional jets and the programme remains on track, according to Embraer Commercial Aviation president and CEO Paulo Cesar Silva. The Company expects roll-out and first flight of the E190-E2 jet in 2016, with entry into service expected in the first half of 2018.
There will be four flight-test aircraft for the baseline E190 E2 and two for the larger E195 E2. The number of flight test aircraft for the smallest aircraft in the range, the E175 E2, has not yet been decided. The E2 ‘iron bird’ test rig is already complete and working.
“We’re very pleased with the number of firm orders” – 267 out of a total of around 600 commitments – and a total of around 160 current generation and E2 models has been sold so far this year, Mr. Silva added.
Mr. Silva also expressed concern about Quebec’s decision to invest $1 billion into the struggling Bombardier CSeries programme, saying that all aircraft manufacturers should compete on a level playing field. “We don’t know yet the full details about this partnership, so we would like very much to get to know them and we are following this process,” he told Reuters news agency, adding “Of course there is a concern, because we want to make sure we are on a level playing field”. Canada and Brazil waged a dispute at the World Trade Organisation over mutual accusations of aerospace subsidies in the 1990s.
Airbus Wins 910 Orders, January-October
Airbus won 910 aircraft orders in the first 10 months of the year, boosted by China Aviation Supplies’ decision to firm up an order for 30 A330-300s, in October. Net orders were 850 aircraft in the period from January to October. Airbus delivered 49 aircraft in October, including 37 A320-family jets, six A330s, four A350 XWBs and two A380s. This took total deliveries so far this year to 495 for 81 customers, Airbus said.
To match ongoing high demand for its A320 Family, Airbus has taken the decision to further increase the production rate of the Single Aisle Family, to 60 aircraft a month, in mid-2019. The decision follows thorough studies on production ramp-up readiness in the supply chain and in Airbus sites to allow the ramp-up. To enable this ramp-up in production, Airbus will extend its capacity in Hamburg, with the creation of an additional production line. In parallel, Airbus will integrate cabin furnishing activities for A320 aircraft produced in Toulouse into the Final Assembly Line in Toulouse. In doing so, it will harmonise the production process across all A320 Family Final Assembly Lines, worldwide.
Most recently on 13th November, Airbus announced that TAP Portugal had signed a firm order with Airbus for 53 Widebody and single aisle aircraft, including 14 A330-900neo, and 39 A320neo Family aircraft (15 A320neos and 24 A321neos). These will join TAP Portugal’s fleet as part of its fleet renewal programme announced by the airline’s new majority owner Atlantic Gateway. As part of the agreement, TAP Portugal is replacing its previous order of 12 A350-900s with the A330-900neo.
Boeing lags behind Airbus in terms of orders
Meanwhile Airbus’ largest competitor, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, added 182 commercial aircraft orders in the third quarter and delivered 580 from January to September, This put it on track to hit its delivery target of at least 750 aircraft for the year. Its order tally however remained far below that of Airbus. However, Boeing delivered 580 aircraft in the first nine months, including 37 787 Dreamliners. That total was 30% more than the 446 planes Airbus delivered.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes third-quarter revenue increased 10% to $17.7 billion (around €16.44 billion), on higher delivery volume and mix. Third-quarter operating margin was also 10%, reflecting higher R&D and the dilutive impact of higher 787 deliveries, partially offset by strong performance on production programs. During the quarter, the company began final assembly and achieved power-on of the first 737 MAX. In total, the 737 programme has won nearly 2,900 firm orders for the 737 MAX since launch. Also during the quarter, the company completed firm configuration for the 777X. The 777X program is on schedule for first delivery in 2020.
Backlog remains strong with nearly 5,700 aircraft valued at $426 billion (around €395.72 billion). A breakdown of orders and deliveries follow.
Orders through to 20th October 2015
737 747 767 777 787 Total
2015 Net Orders 333 – 48 54 26 461
Current Year deliveries through to October 2015
737 747 767 777 787 Total
Total 2015 Deliveries 414 14 15 83 112 638
Obviously this review does not include Russian Federation projects, which will be looked at in a separate piece.