Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Boeing Needs To Do (Part 3)

Assuming as expected, Boeing splits the 100-250 seat aircraft market into two segments with two distinct designs, what should Boeing propose for the 100-150 seat category?

Boeing has to target this aircraft above the Embraer E-190 and E-195 aircraft. This is somewhat eased by U.S. major airline pilots unions, who in their contract cap the largest aircraft a regional partner can use. This "scope clause" is intended to prevent the loss of mainline pilot jobs to lower-paid regional pilots. But is also keeps the 110-130 seat segment firmly with the major airlines, as skipping from 70 seat regional jets to 150 seat mainline aircraft can be to much of a gap to schedule efficiently.

In my last post, I pointed out most domestic first-class passengers don't pay for first class, but instead are coach passengers who are upgraded to first class based on their frequent flier status. This fact makes aircraft like the 767 and MD-80 better for the airlines, because their first class cabins lose only one seat per row. Domestic first class in the 767 uses six-abreast seating compared to seven-abreast in coach. On the MD-80 (and Boeing 717), first class is four-abreast while coach is five-abreast.

If Boeing does create an aircraft to cover the gap between its larger 737s and the 787, that leaves only the lower-end of the 737 market needing a follow-on. An aircraft with a cross-section similar to the MD-80/717 would fit this ideally. In fact, it could easily cover from 100 to 150 passengers. Some improvements could be made, but the current MD-80/717 design is still valid. This aircraft could be timed for a 2015 entry into service, and Boeing could focus on breakthrough engine efficiencies. Range would be less important, as the larger aircraft could address handful of "long thin" routes where longer range 737s are currently being used.

Regarding the MD-80/717 design, a T-tail, rear engine design offers more flexibility for higher bypass engines, or even a rebirth of the "propfans" proposed in the early 1990s.

The five-abreast, single-aisle layout offers faster loading and unloading than the 737s six-abreast single-aisle config. The only negative on this layout is overhead bin space. But there is plenty of time to address the cabin layouts.

For my next post, I will explain why Boeing needs to act now.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What Boeing Needs To Do (Part 2)

Last Friday, December 1st, Airbus finally, officially launched the A350XWB. As I commented earlier, I believe Boeing now should target the 200-250 seat market for its next commercial airliner.

What should a new Boeing 200-250 seat aircraft look like?

A big consideration driving seating arrangements for U.S. domestic airlines is balancing seat revenue with flight attendant requirements. Delta slightly reduced the seating on its 737-800s to 150 seats so they could operate these aircraft with only three flight attendants. 151 passengers requires four flight attendants, as does 200. So a few more fare paying passengers did not offset the added cost of an additional flight attendant. This means Boeing must target designs for 150 seats, 200 seats, and 250 seats in a U.S. domestic two-class arrangement. Alternatively, longer-range international flights have different considerations. This means in a larger, longer-ranged version, total seat numbers are less important.

An almost ideal fuselage for such an airplane would be similar to the proposed Boeing 7J7 and McDonnell Douglas DC-11. Both of these proposed twin-aisle, six-abreast coach configurations.

This seating configuration offers two design options. The first, a narrower option, considers the fact a twin aisle, six-abreat configuration can tolerate narrower seats and aisles. This means the fuselage only has to be about 18 inches wider than the current 737. Despite narrow seats and aisles, with 2/3rds of the seats aisle seats, and no middle seats, the airplane would be relatively comfortable.

But a second design option would be a wider six-abreast option which could support a seven-abreast configuration for charter and the domestic Japanese markets. In this case, the fuselage width should be dictated by the narrowest coach seat available (DC-10 and L-1011 10-abreast, 767 8-abreast, or A300 9-abreast). A seven-abreast configuration of these, with the narrowest aisle tolerable (probably 16 inches), would define the cabin width. Then design a six-abreast configuration for the rest of the world.

If the latter option is chose, seat mile efficiency targets should be based on domestic U.S. markets in the six-abreast configuration. This is a challenging target, but should be easier in the 200-250 seat category compared to the 100-200 seat category.

A twin-aisle, six abreast configuration would be much more comfortable than the 757 on transcontinental and transatlantic routes, and with twin-aisles would also have faster boarding and and disembarkment times for short-haul service. It would also allow for more carry-on baggage space, critical in the short-haul market.

Given the breadth of size and range options, two wing configurations should be planned from the beginning, just like the 787. A smaller wing would be used for the 150 seat and possibly the 200 seat domestic version, and a larger wing would be used for the 200 seat extended range version and the 250 seat version.

Another advantage of the six-abreast coach configuration is it allows for a five-abreast U.S. domestic first class and international business class. Almost no one pays for first class tickets in the U.S. These seats are almost always filled with coach ticket travelers who have been upgraded due to premium frequent flier status. For international flights, a four-abreast international first class option would be possible.

Such an aircraft should cover from from the 737-800 to the 757-300 markets. This means a significant change from Boeing's original Y1 100-200 passenger concept. But the reality is a 100 seat aircraft is significantly different from a 200 seat aircraft. What should fill the 100-150 seat category? That will be the subject of my next post.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4