The Great Jet Buying Splurge (and what it means for the environment)

A photo shopped mock up of what the new -old Boeing 737MAX might look like.

 Image is from Boeing, and partly open source from:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_737_MAX_computer-generated_image.jpg

Normal people who read normal newspapers probably take no notice of the Paris Air Show. Geeks like me on the other hand are sad enough to read Flight International, to find out about new aircraft and especially what the industry is up to.

Well, the answer is Airlines are buying a simply enormous amount of jets.

How many is enormous?

Puzzled?

I thought there was a massive recession/economic meltdown both sides of the Atlantic?

I thought airlines were saying they’re simply not making any money?

I thought airlines were whinging about the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) hoping that American and Chinese litigation will knock it off course?

Well it turns out they must be making a buck or two. For the Paris Air Show saw record orders for new(ish) jet aircraft, especially the so called narrow bodies that most of us use for short and medium flights. In particular Airbus cleaned up with its A320Neo aircraft. It is the latest version of what is now an oldish aircraft. It promises new engines and a 15% reduction in fuel consumption (which roughly means a similar reduction in Green House Gases (GHG) compared with existing models). The other big draw is that given the commonality with existing A321s, there is a promise of significantly less maintenance costs as well.

Airbus won apparently 667 orders for this newish Airbus jet, worth roughly 60bn dollars. Many of those buying were Asian low cost Ryanair like clones, IndiGO and Air Asia, but also Virgin America and SAS ordered the plane.

Boeing were left with egg all over their face after the Paris air show and then came a massive order from American Airlines, which includes both AirbusNeo’s and also Boeing’s rushed catch-up effort. Boeing have basically decided to build and sell a revamped version of the old 737, which they are branding as the 737MAX. Therefore they are just offering something more or less the same as the Airbus Neo, although they claim its engines will be a bit more efficient and save more fuel (naturally).

American Airlines made an unusual split order of around 130 Airbus A320neos and 100 Boeing 737MAXs, of which Boeing claim to have orders for well over 400 of the type, and these should start appearing around 2017.

In the wings (bad pun….) is waiting the Chinese manufacturer COMAC who will shortly be selling a narrow body that can compete for anyone who has not bought the Neo or Boeing 737MAX……so….it is going to be a very crowded and conservative market with very similar jets all offering roughly 15% greater efficiency. There is also potential for Brazil and Russia to enter this complex marketplace for ‘narrow body’ jets.

The sad thing is that this rush to buy jets with 15% improved emissions is actually selling us (the great indifferent and unaware public) well short of what the aviation industry can probably manufacture and what airlines could choose to buy if they were not so technologically conservative..or if they were simply forced to by government regulation…….

An efficiency level of 25-30% is credible if we wait a little longer….say the 2020s……although I conceded that is disputed by industry…….but any future market for a new narrow body design with -25% emissions is now badly damaged by the splurge to buy these new-old jets…these are rehash designs………rather than something that aims to get a radical reduction is emissions and much greater fuel efficiency.

The plane-makers line is that they are not yet ready to deliver such reductions in emissions and that we cannot reasonably expect such until the 2030s. But many of the jets bought now could well still be flying then, and airlines may well push the cost of replacements until the later 2030s, and even into the 2040s. Indeed its worth noting that many 1960s designs by Boeing are still flying-the 747 with new electronics and engines is selling respectably, and the 737 design is itself a 1960s design concept being stretched to its design capacity limits.

Hopefully we all be around to find out what happens.

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