March 25, 2023

Big-Ticket Orders at Paris Air Show

Analysts attributed the higher dollar figures mainly to airlines’ renewed interest in the next generation of bigger, and more expensive, wide-body jets. Driving that trend are expectations for improvement in the global economy, along with carriers’ need to replace aging fleets of fuel-guzzling long-distance jets.

But analysts also cautioned that coming years are unlikely to see a similar boom in jet purchases.

One reason is that a frenetic buying spree over the past three years has left Airbus and Boeing with burgeoning order books — and ever-longer waiting times for airlines to receive their new planes. Most of the airlines and leasing companies that ordered new Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 jets at the Paris Air Show this week said they did not expect to begin receiving them for four to five years.

The volume of orders “has to come down, partly because of the constraint of supply,” said Nick Cunningham, an aerospace analyst at Agency Partners in London. “If you want to have an A350 or 787, you are going to wait a long time.”

Another constraint, he said, is that airlines do not want to see too many of those big jets, with their hundreds of seats, competing with one another.

“If you have too much capacity going in too quickly, it drives down fares,” Mr. Cunningham said.

Airbus announced signed orders and purchase commitments at the Paris show for 466 planes valued at $69 billion at list prices. Boeing said its tally of 442 planes was worth more than $66 billion. Precise figures are hard to come by because airline customers rarely pay full list price for jets and large orders typically come at steep discounts.

At last year’s global aerospace bazaar, held in Farnborough, England, Airbus and Boeing together had $54 billion in new jet orders and commitments. Most of those deals were for the Airbus A320neo, a version of the popular A320 single-aisle plane with more fuel-efficient engines, and Boeing’s competing single-aisle plane, the 737 Max, which also uses the next generation of engines.

Both manufacturers secured several hundred orders for single-aisle planes again this year. But it was in the wide-body segment that the intensifying competition was on full display at Le Bourget airport, near Paris.

Boeing announced dozens of new orders for its 787 Dreamliner, despite a three-month grounding this year because of problems with its lightweight but volatile lithium-ion batteries. Those deals included commitments for more than 100 stretched versions of the plane that Boeing said it would start delivering in 2018.

Airbus, meanwhile, made the most of the momentum it gained last week for its rival A350 after its inaugural flight; it is due to enter service in late 2014. The European plane maker managed to secure 69 new orders for the A350 this week, bringing its total backlog to 362.

The A350 made its second test flight this week from the company’s headquarters in Toulouse, about a 90-minute flight south of the French capital. Fabrice Brégier, the Airbus chief executive, confirmed that a third flight would pass over Le Bourget on Friday, when the exhibition opens to the public.

At that point, the air show, which ends Sunday, will be mainly an opportunity for people to ogle airplanes on the ground and in flyover exhibitions.

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All Nippon Says Grounded Dreamliners Have Cost $15 Million

With a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, delivered in late 2011 ahead of any other airline, All Nippon is the world’s largest operator of Boeing’s new jet. But that fleet remains grounded as U.S. and Japanese investigators try to figure out why a battery burst into flames and another spewed smoke last month on 787s operated by All Nippon and Japan Airlines.

All Nippon has scrambled to use replacement aircraft to keep routes operating. But the airline has been forced to cancel about 450 domestic and international flights, affecting almost 60,000 customers. The airline has said it expects disruptions to continue, and was unsure how long the disruption to its services would continue.

The airline said Thursday that so far, the 787 grounding had caused an estimated $15.4 million in lost revenue, a disappointing reversal after the airline touted the big fuel savings brought about by the fuel-efficient jets. For now, All Nippon kept its profit forecast for the year through March unchanged at ¥40 billion, though it remains unclear how big an impact the Dreamliner woes will have on the airline’s future earnings and strategy.

Seven operators grounded their 787 fleets on Jan. 16 after regulators around the world followed U.S. and Japanese regulators in ordering the suspension of all flights until the battery problems could be resolved. Earlier that day, a 787 operated by All Nippon was forced to make an emergency landing in western Japan after pilots spotted a battery error signal and a strange smell in the cabin.

Just 10 days earlier, a similar battery burst into flames aboard a parked 787 operated by Japan Airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport. The charred remains of the lithium-ion batteries have been recovered from both planes, and are now being scrutinized by U.S. and Japanese investigators.

All Nippon has since said that it replaced batteries and chargers in its Dreamliners a total of 10 times before the emergency landing, and Japan Airlines said it had done so several times. U.S. investigators are now asking for more data on the devices’ past performance.

All Nippon has not asked Boeing for compensation linked to the grounded 787s, but will discuss the issue once the total financial impact is more clear, the executive vice president Kiyoshi Tonomoto was quoted by Reuters as saying.

According to Boeing, the two Japanese airlines account for about an eighth of the 848 orders the aircraft manufacturer has received for the Dreamliner so far. Japan Airlines, which owns seven of the jets, reports its earnings next week.

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On the Road: Lean Airlines in Poor Shape to Handle Passenger Backlog

Besides the immediate effects of the storm, the airlines have cut so much that they have little ability to handle any extra strain. Fleets have been pared; employees laid off. In a system now flying with more than 80 percent of seats full, there’s no slack to handle a crush of desperate passengers looking to reschedule flights knocked off the board by a big storm.

“Right now we’re looking at tens of thousands of business travelers whose trips were interrupted, and who are stuck,” said Joseph Bates, the vice president for research at the Global Business Travel Association. The Eastern seaboard is “the busiest area of the United States in terms of business travel, and it’s essentially going to be shut down for two days.”

Expect large numbers of additional flight cancellations this week. The 7,300-plus cancellations counted Monday afternoon by the flight tracking service represented about a quarter of the 27,000 scheduled commercial flights on a typical weekday in the United States. As thousands of scrubbed flights pile up through the week, the likelihood for air travel chaos is high.

Basically, the best advice is this: Stay home this week. If you’re already en route and stranded, or if you have a ticket for air travel in the near future, consult airlines for the current storm-travel waiver policies. But good luck with that, because airlines long ago thinned staff at their call centers, and the Web sites were providing scant information on Monday, at least.

Generally, the airlines are waiving penalty fees, which are usually $150, for passengers who rebook after canceling a so-called nonrefundable reservation, or having one canceled. But the restrictions are tight.

“I’m hearing from business travelers who said they’re being rebooked, only to find that the rebooked flight is also canceled,” said Joe Brancatelli, the publisher of the subscription business travel site

“These are ridiculous travel waiver policies that are trying to force you into rebooking through a very narrow window,” he said.

Some airlines seemed to project a rather casual attitude about the crisis on their Web sites, it seemed to me. Even as scheduled flights were being canceled wholesale, the United Airlines advisory, for example, provided a list of what it referred to as “cities that may experience flight delays due to weather conditions.”

United’s policy on rebooking was typical. The change penalty and any extra charge for higher fares is waived, provided a passenger rebooks and begins the new trip by Nov. 7. On Delta, new travel has to be commenced by Sunday.

For the airlines themselves, one chief concern is keeping airplanes and crews out of the storm and in place to be rescheduled. “They saw this coming and knew it was going to be nasty, and they didn’t want the hardware on the ground,” said G. Bruce Hedlund, a recently retired American Airlines captain.

Once the storm abates, airlines will need to reposition planes and crews. “When the skies turn blue again, that doesn’t mean everything’s immediately fine. It takes another couple of days to get the crews and the jets to where they belong and bring the system back,” Mr. Hedlund said.

There’s also more dependence on part-time employees who can be scheduled ad hoc, meaning it’s going to be harder to get the system back quickly. “Now the computer says, ‘I don’t need you for eight hours; I need you at the peak,’ so it’s a part-time job tailoring the schedule for demand, and that adds complications,” he said.

In Orlando, Fla., the annual convention of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents the private jet industry, was getting under way on Monday, with questions on how many of the 25,000 people expected would actually get there.

“We haven’t heard from hotels that people are dropping reservations,” said Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the group.

As the storm loomed, the Global Business Travel Association offered statistics extrapolated from past disruptions and found that in a major hurricane of one to two days’ duration on the East Coast, the total loss in business travel spending would be about $684 million, and 580,000 business trips would be disrupted.

Mr. Hedlund, the retired American Airlines captain, said that the math was simple as the storm raged and waned. “There are not any extra airplanes. There aren’t any extra crews. So you just wait till the rumbles die down, and the system recovers almost of its own natural accord.”


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