Now, this article does come from the Seattle Times, so it will obviously be a little one sided. It is indeed very interesting though. For 2 top airline CEO's to remark that the "Super Cruiser" is a trend setter like the 707 is nothing short of amazing. Notice that BA, JAL, CX, UAL, AA, ANA, SIA and CO have all been briefed and are going to join the design team.
'The old Boeing is back'
Airline industry expresses interest in super-fast plane, renewed confidence in company
Monday, April 9, 2001
By JAMES WALLACE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
When Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Alan Mulally showed up at Continental Airline's headquarters in Houston early last month with several other executives, Gordon Bethune had a gut feeling that he was about to hear some special news from the company for which he once worked.
"We knew they weren't coming down just to ask us out to dinner," quipped Bethune, Continental's chief executive officer.
Boeing has promised the airline industry that its new, yet-to-be-named plane, shown here, will fly farther and faster without a drastic increase in operating costs. / Associated Press
Click for larger photo
Indeed. As Bethune and his top people gathered with the The Boeing Co. team in the boardroom on the 19th floor of Continental's downtown headquarters building, Mulally opened a large silver metal suitcase and removed something that Bethune says took his breath away.
It was a 3-foot-long scale model of a futuristic-looking airplane that Mulally said would fly passengers at nearly the speed of sound, or about 20 percent faster than today's commercial jets. What was revolutionary about the design, Mulally and his team explained, was that this plane would be able fly fast and far and do so with operating costs not much more than current jetliners -- a feat that aviation experts have long maintained is impossible.
Bethune, who once ran Boeing's 737 and 757 airplane programs in Renton and has on occasion been openly critical of the aerospace giant since he left to run Continental, said the new plane is the most exciting thing he has seen from The Boeing Co. in 50 years.
"It will be the best home run Boeing has ever hit," Bethune predicted in an interview last week with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"It gave me renewed confidence the old company is back," he added.
That was a company not afraid to take risks, he said, recalling Boeing as an aviation pioneer whose executives bet the farm on a huge new airplane known as the 747. That became a watershed event in the history of air transportation and, in time, became the company's most profitable airplane.
But in recent years, some industry leaders have criticized Boeing for not taking bold new initiatives in commercial aviation. Instead, Boeing had focused its efforts on less risky and less costly derivative planes such as the 747X, a bigger and more advanced version of the 30-year-old jumbo jet that would counter the threat of the all-new A380 super jumbo under development by Airbus Industrie.
By March of this year, after more than a year on the stump trying to win support for the 747X, Boeing executives had not landed a single order.
After hearing the Boeing pitch for the 747X, some airline executives had even questioned whether the company was committed to the 747 derivative. Some of Boeing's best 747 customers, including Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines, committed to buy the A380. And it appeared that Lufthansa, another important 747 customer heavily courted by Boeing, would soon join the A380 bandwagon.
That's when the company decided it was time to put the 747X plans on the shelf and take the wraps off a project that was part of what was known at Boeing as 20XX, a product development group led by John Roundhill. For the past several years, Roundhill's group had been getting ready for an all-new airplane when the time was right. They had been looking at everything from radical new aircraft designs to revolutionary manufacturing processes that Boeing used on its Joint Strike Fighter to keep production costs down.
Boeing executives had dropped hints from time to time that the company was looking at a new commercial jetliner about the size of the 767, but they had kept specifics close to the vest.
All that changed in early March. That's when Mulally and a small team that included Roundhill and Mike Bair, vice president of business strategy and development for commercial airplanes, boarded one of the company's Challenger jets at Boeing Field and flew off to talk with airline customers about their vision of the future.
Before leaving, they went out and bought a large, stylish, rolling silver suitcase, big enough to carry a one-hundredth scale model of the proposed super-fast plane.
Over the next three weeks, they visited a dozen of Boeing's best customers in North America, Europe and Asia, including Continental, American, United, British Airways, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.
The reaction from airlines was overwhelmingly positive, Bair said.
After returning, Mulally publicly disclosed details of the plane at a news conference March 29. Since then, the project has captured the imagination of the industry.
That's because -- other than the supersonic Concorde -- the speed of commercial jetliners has not changed much since Boeing's 707 entered service more than four decades ago. The fastest subsonic commercial jetliner today remains the 747, the latest version of which cruises at Mach .85. (Mach 1 is the speed of sound. It varies with temperature and altitude, but is about 740 miles per hour at sea level and 32 degrees Fahrenheit).
Speeds have not gone higher because as a jet approaches the speed of sound the drag increases and it takes much more power to push through that drag. More power means more fuel. And that translates into significantly higher operating costs for an airline.
But Boeing told those 12 airlines that it can build a plane that cruises between Mach .95 and Mach .98 and that will still have about the same operating costs as today's jets.
Even Airbus is now saying that it may have to sit down with airlines and discuss a similar plane of its own. On the day of Mulally's news conference, a top Airbus executive had said Airbus had studied the concept and determined such a pane would burn 40 percent more fuel than today's jetliners and thus would not be economical for airlines.
But at an aircraft maintenance conference in Dallas last week, Adam Brown, director of market forecasting for Airbus, was quoted as saying the idea of such a plane was "fascinating and intriguing."
So far most airline executives have been nothing short of gushing in their public praise of the Boeing plane -- assuming, they say, that Boeing can deliver on its promise of a fast airplane with good economics.
At that same Aviation Week conference in Dallas last week, Donald Carty, chief executive of American Airlines, said the Boeing plane could revolutionize the industry and will pose a serious threat to the 555-passenger Airbus A380 super jumbo that is due to enter service in 2006 or 2007.
That view is echoed by Continental's Bethune.
"There is no question that some guys will pooh-pooh this plane," Bethune said. "But if I think it's great and Carty thinks it's great, then there must be something going on here."
Bethune said he's convinced that Boeing was never really serious about the 747X. It was all a bluff to get Airbus to commit to the A380, he said.
Boeing has long argued that the market for planes bigger than the 747 will be small because of fragmentation, that airline passengers want to fly direct routes between cities rather than making connections at large hub airports served by the A380.
"Boeing was just using the 747X as a place holder to keep Airbus thinking they were going to one up 'em," Bethune said. "They used the 747X to snooker them. This is a chess game, not checkers."
He said he told Mulally during that March visit in Continental's boardroom that Airbus was playing checkers and Boeing was playing chess.
"It's checkmate for Airbus," Bethune said.
Airbus has so far announced 66 orders for its A380, which Airbus has said will cost about $11 billion to developBethune said it will be impossible for Airbus to develop its own sonic cruiser anytime soon because of that commitment to the A380.
And once Boeing's sonic cruiser is flying, he said, it will siphon away many of those business-class passengers that Airbus needs for its A380.
"Tell me one good thing from a consumer's viewpoint about the A380," Bethune said. "Do you really want to check in with 600 other passengers? Do you want to clear customs and immigration with 600 other passengers? Do you want to wait to board with 600 other people?
"Forget about all this testosterone between aircraft manufacturers," he continued. "Think about what customers want."
He noted that Continental recently started 777 service between New York and Hong Kong. Flying new polar routes with permission from the Russians, Continental has reduced the travel time to about 16 hours, which is anywhere from two to eight hours less than the same trip used to take, he said.
Boeing's sonic cruiser would further reduce that flight time to just over 13 hours, Bethune said.
"Who do you think is going to be selling tickets to Hong Kong when I'm over here at the same ticket price with the sonic cruiser and you are standing in line for an older, slower airplane?"
And if one airline buys the sonic cruiser, its competitor will have to follow, Bethune said.
"American has to buy it if I buy it," he said. "It's like the 707. When it debuted, who was on the turbo-props across the Atlantic after that? Nobody."
Bethune said he has no doubt Boeing will fulfill its promise to airlines to develop a jet that meets its performance targets, including those all-important operating costs.
"I have never seen Boeing fail to make what they committed to," Bethune said. "They put people on the moon. ... They believe they can make a very fast competitive airplane. I told Alan, 'Go get 'em, boy.'"
"History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid." D. Eisenhower