It’s all go . . .

Since my last update a few months back, there’s been all kinds of things happening on the aviation scene, both here in Perth and further a field.

Probably the biggest news of the lot is Airbus’s announcement that it will offer the A320 NEO (New Engine Option). After much speculation, Airbus came out and said they would be offering the NEO with either the PW1000G Geared Turbofan (GTF) from Pratt & Whitney or the LEAP-X from CFM International.

Airbus A320neo

Photo courtesy of Airbus Industrie

Both of these engines promise all sorts of improvements over current offerings, but the PW1000G GTF looks like a real technology winner with a simplified design over current engines leading to an estimated 20% reduction in maintenance costs, a 16% improvement in fuel efficiency and a service entry date of 2013, just putting it in front of the LEAP-X.

The first test engine being bolted to the test rig

Photo courtesy of Pratt & Whitney

Pratt & Whitney is making a concerted return to the narrow body market after having lost substantial market share to the likes of International Aero Engines (IAE) over recent times. Now it’s IAE who are on the back foot by being locked out of the NEO market.

First flight of the new Pratt & Whitney Purepower 1000 engine on the company's Boeing 747-SP

Photo courtesy of Pratt & Whitney

All of this now puts Boeing in a bit of a bind. The 737 has been selling like hot cakes (as has the A320), but has one major disadvantage to its European rival – it has short legs in the undercarriage department. Whereas the A320 can be pretty easily modified to take somewhat larger engines, the 737 can’t do that without a significant redesign, which all costs money – and lots of it.

On the one hand, the 737 is a big seller, so why try to change a something that’s already a success, but now that Airbus has come out of the gates with the NEO, Boeing has to do something or risk a slow death of the 737. Boeing could come out with an all new design but risk it being poorly received by the airlines, leaving the NEO to take all of the loot, and with already well in excess of 300 commitments to date, the NEO is making a run for it.

There’s been recent talk of Boeing coming out with a totally new, 7-abreast, offering, something like a cut down version of the 767. The only snag is it won’t be available until around 2019. So, what to do? In the multi-billion dollar aircraft industry the stakes are high, so Boeing needs to get it right. Right now Airbus seems to have the advantage, but don’t write the Americans off just yet.

PK-GMQ Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-8U3 5423

A bit closer to home, and Virgin Blue is in the final stages of preparing for its much anticipated entry into the Australian domestic market using widebody A330-200’s. Their first example, VH-XFA, arrived in Perth on Saturday, 9 April, and left on Sunday as flight 9060 back to Sydney.

The aircraft is ex-Emirates and is currently in an all-white scheme awaiting the soon to be unveiled new livery being adopted by Virgin as part of its new service launch. I say ‘Virgin’ as the ‘Blue’ part of the name is supposedly being dropped and, hopefully, they’ll adopt a flash livery like their UK namesake and not copy their American cousins, who have a livery that’s about as exciting as a wet lettuce.

Sydney – Perth services are due to start in May and no doubt there’ll be plenty of fan-fare. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against Qantas in the business market, but already Qantas has announced it’ll be putting internationally configured 747-400’s onto the Perth route, so they are clearly expecting a fight.

Ultimately, it’s the passengers who win, with more choices, more options and better fares.

Another move by Qantas sees them taking over Network Aviation, the Perth-based charter operation that flies to a number of WA mining locations as well as offering charters elsewhere.

Network currently has a fleet of six Embraer Brasilias and two Fokker 100’s and Qantas has indicated that it will be acquiring an additional 10 F-100’s. That’s quite an expansion, but in a resources market where major projects are being announced on a regular basis, there’s certainly plenty of scope for growth.

VH-NHO Network Aviation Fokker F-100 6411A

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