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So This Is What It Has Come To

Remember the Sonic Cruiser? It was Boeing's proposed aircraft that was going to shave an hour off transatlantic routes and up to three hours off some transpacific routes while using no more fuel than a typical airliner. I blogged about its rumored troubles here and here. Now it's official: the Sonic Cruiser is not to be. Instead, we're going to get the 7E7:

The Boeing 7E7 is being developed as a 200- to 250-seat airplane that will fly between 7,000 and 8,000 nautical miles at speeds similar to today's fastest twin-aisle commercial airplanes -- the 777 and 747...

The airplane will be based on the enabling technologies developed with a global industry team during the company's examination of the Sonic Cruiser concept. In December 2002, Boeing announced that based on customer input and market analysis, it would focus these new technologies on a super-efficient, mid-sized airplane... The company expects to formally offer the new airplane to customers in early 2004, with entry into service targeted for 2008.

The Seattle Times had this to say in an article earlier this week:

Airlines' preference for lower operating costs over higher speeds led Boeing to abandon its proposed Sonic Cruiser in favor of the 7E7 late last year.

In keeping with that emphasis, [vice president of development for the 7E7, Walt] Gillette reasserted the 7E7 will burn 17 percent less fuel per passenger than the 777, and 20 percent less fuel per passenger than the A330-200.

So all those new technologies developed for the Sonic Cruiser will go to make simply something that consumes slightly less fuel. That's it.

By the way, everyone who believes that airlines will put shops, casinos, and gyms on Airbus A380s, raise your hands. (In my best John McLaughlin voice) "Wrong! The correct answer is that every square inch will be used for seating!" Airbus can propose using the extra space of the A380 for passenger amenities, and Boeing can propose using new technologies to make a faster aircraft, but in the end, the airlines simply want to shave every nickel they can off their costs. The problem with this thinking is that the mainstream intercontinental airlines who are A380 and 7E7 customers (American, United, et. al.) are trying to compete on costs with the discount upstarts (Southwest, Ryanair, et. al.). They need to forget it. They can't do it. They're locked into hub and spoke systems, diverse aircraft types, and expensive and inflexible labor contracts. Saving 17-20 percent on fuel costs with the 7E7, or 15-20 percent on operating costs with the A380, won't suddenly make them competitive with the discount carriers. They're deluding themselves if they believe this.


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