The New Class of Airliners: An Overview of Aviation’s Near Future
Comac (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China)
The Chinese state-owned company Comac is looking to break into the very busy short-range to medium-range regional jet market with two new aircraft. Meet the ARJ21, which is already undergoing flight testing, and the larger C919. Comac was founded in 2008, and is based in Shanghai, China. To start, Comac is designing and building the ARJ21 and C919 regional jets, but has plans to develop two twin-engine, twin aisle aircraft in the future.
The ARJ21, which looks like the combination of a Boeing 717 and Bombardier regional jet, comes in several variations, seating anywhere from 70 to 105 passengers depending on the configuration. The ARJ21 actually predates Comcac, originally designed by the also government controlled ACAC consortium. After several lengthy delays and the reorganizaton of ACAC consortium to Comac, the ARJ21 took to the skies for the first time on November 28, 2008. Research indicates that Comac currently has 309 orders on the books for the ARJ21, all with Asian airlines. Entry into service with Chengdu Airlines was slated for late 2013, but it is unclear if that will actually happen.
The Comac C919 is both newer and larger than the ARJ21, and even has some support from an unlikely source. The C919 has the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 set dead in its sights, with seating capacity ranging from 150 to 190 passengers. With a cost projected to be lower than both of its competitors, the C919 already has 380 orders on the books, despite its first flight not being scheduled until 2015, at best. In 2011, Ryanair signed an agreement assist in the development of the C919, and CEO Michael O’Leary has mentioned Comac quite a number of times in recent years as competition to Boeing, although they have not placed any orders.The C919 is slated for an entry into service at some point in 2016.
Odds are that if you have ever flown on a regional jet, there is a good chance it was made by Bombardier. While the CRJ line of aircraft does their job well, nobody likes to be packed into a CRJ900 for a three hour flight, as the experience is just lousy. The next generation of Bombardier aircraft is called the CSeries, a medium-range airline that serves as Bombardier’s entry into the larger regional jet market. The CSeries (CS100 and CS300) will compete with the smaller members of the Boeing and Airbus family, as well as the Embraer E-Jet series. The CS100 can seat between 108 and 125 passengers, and should see its first flight within weeks and entry into service about a year later. Much like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350XWB, the CSeries uses a higher than normal mix of composite materials in the fuselage. As of last month, the CSeries had only 177 orders on the books
Everyone already knows about the 787 Dreamliner at this point, but what else does Boeing have in store for the world? Over the new few years, Boeing will be introducing the next generation of their current airframes with the 737 MAX and 777x. Oh, and don’t forget the longer versions of the 787, the -9 and -10. So, what surprises does Boeing have in store for their flagship narrowbody and widebody aircraft?
The 4th generation of the 737, named the MAX, is Boeing’s answer to the A320 neo, sporting only minor modifications to the current design. Essentially, the MAX is all about what is attached to the wings, and some other minor adjustments. The MAX will use a new CFM International LEAP-1B engines for increased efficiency. The flight deck of the 737 will receive an overhaul to include larger flight display screens, much like the 787. The aircraft will bring over design elements from the 737NG such as Boeing Sky Interior, so passengers might never know they are on a MAX. The 737 MAX already has just short of 1,500 orders from customers around the globe, with a planned entry into service in 2017.
The 777 is the current king of the longhaul world, without question. Just as with the 737, the airframe is due for an upgrade to help it cope with the needs of the future. With the allure of the four-engined 747 fading, a two-engine successor is needed. Enter the 777X. More than just slapping new engines on the aircraft and calling it a day, the 777X truly is the next generation of the 777. The smallest of three new variants, the 777-8X, will be marketed as the 777-300ER replacement, while the 777-9X will be even longer (and longer than the 747-8i, the current longest commercial aircraft in operation), holding over 400 passengers. The 777-8X will offer a range of up to 9,400 nm using the GE9x engine, while the 777-9X see about 8,000 nm, the same as the 777-300ER. Folding wingtips will also be included in the new design, though not much is known about this details. The 777x will include a new interior, as well as larger windows which were influenced by the 787 design. The 77X program is still not officially official, but the launch is expected by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Airbus has been busy cooking up their next generation narrowbody and widebody aircraft, just like Boeing. While the A320 will be getting some upgrades, Airbus will also introduce a brand new aircraft for the widebody market. Check that, the “extra wide body” market.
Lets start with the A320, which much like the 737 MAX, will become the A320neo, meaning “new engine option.” Yup, you guessed it, this is another overhaul to really just the engines, and not much more. The A320neo promises 15% less fuel consumption, 8% lower operating costs, and less noise produced by either the CFM International LEAP-X or Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines. The A320neo will include an answer to the Boeing Sky Interior and some other minor cabin enhancements, as well the still relatively new Sharklet wing tips. The A320neo family has 2,348 firm orders, with about 100 more commitments and 500 options. The A320neo is expected to enter service in 2015 with leasing company IFLC, while the A319neo will launch with Qatar.
The A350 XWB, which just recently logged its first flight in France, is the Airbus answer to the Boeing 787. The A350 is a totally new aircraft, not just a stretch or re-engine of another. With fuselage and wing structures made with a high blend of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer, the A350 follows the 787s lead in the use of composite materials. Using its Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, the A350 promises operating costs up to 8% lower than the 787. The wing of the A350 will also be made of composite materials, but will not make use of Sharklet wingtips, instead opting for a slick looking upward curve. The A350 XWB will be produced in three variants, the -800, -900, and -1000, where the -1000 variant is capable of holding a maximum 550 passengers. The A350 XWB currently has 682 orders, with a majority for the mid-range -900 variant. Qatar will launch the A350 into service sometime in the middle of 2014.
The Embraer E-Jet family of aircraft has been hugely successful as a medium-range regional aircraft, and the time has come to give it a bit of an overhaul. Launched at the Paris Air Show this year, the E-Jet E2 family will be in a better position to compete with the CSeries than the current generation. Of course, there will be new engines, but some other engineering changes are being made to enhance efficiency. The E2 series will have a new composite wing, stretched fuselage, new main landing gear, and improved avionics. Fuel burn on the E195-E2 model is down ~23% over the current E195. The E2 series will comprise of the E175-E2, E190-E2, and E195-E2. SkyWest is slated to launch the E2 series with the E175-E2 in 2018.
Although the mid-size regional jet segment is already quite crowded, Mitsubishi will attempt to enter the market with the Mitsubishi Regional Jet. With a seating capacity of 70–90, the MRJ will directly compete with Embraer, Bombardier, Comac, and Sukhoi. The MRJ program is a joint effort between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyota Motor Corporation. The MRJ is a bit wider than the other regional jet competition, so the potential to be the most comfortable regional jet is there. The MRJ program has seen its fair share of major delays, with first flight pushed back to 2015, and entry into service with ANA in 2017…hopefully. Mitsubishi only has a total of 160 orders on the books, a majority of them with SkyWest.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Sukhoi Superjet 100. This Russian aircraft isn’t your typical product of the Russian aerospace industry, as it was a joint effort by many worldwide company’s, such as Honeywell, Thales, Alenia Aermacchi, and even Boeing. With a purchase price of only $35 million each, the SSJ100 is a huge bargain in the regional jet market, roughly half the cost of a CSeries jet. The SSJ100 is already in service, launched in 2011 with Armavia, and recently saw its entry into North America with Mexican airline Interjet. Sukhoi currently has 234 firm orders and 107 options on the books, but none for any customer in the United States. In 2012, a SSJ100 was flown into the side of a mountain during a promotional flight in Indonesia, killing all 37 on board and putting a massive ding in the companies reputation. The aircraft was apparently operating normally, but the distracted crew ignored terrain warnings.