Dim Outlook For Smallest Single-Aisles

By Jens Flottau, Guy Norris
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

A similar trend is evident in most other parts of the market as well. Airbus first had serious trouble in marketing the A350-800, the smallest member of the A350 family, and now appears to be trying to shift -800 customers to the larger -900 and -1000. But some airlines believe the -800 is about all they can fill. Airbus had earlier shifted the design optimum to the -900, yet it is contractually obliged to build the aircraft and officially says the family will consist of three types.

The A330 initially experienced stronger sales for the -200, but interest has now almost completely shifted to the larger -300. That trend has been supported by Airbus, which has given the aircraft major increases in its maximum takeoff weight and range.

The same is true for other manufacturers. Boeing 777-300ER (687 orders) has now surpassed the 777-200ER/LR (481) and that gap is expected to widen in the next few years. The 787-8 (535) still leads the 787-9 (355), but the larger variant in the family is not even due to enter service until 2014. And there are some indications that even more airlines are seriously considering the -9. Boeing has also sold five times as many 767-300ERs than -200ERs.

There are two noticeable exceptions: Of the 1,049 orders for the 757, only 55 were for the stretched 757-300. While the aircraft initially looked to be a possible solution for high-demand short-haul routes (and an Airbus A300/A310 replacement) airlines soon found out that turnaround times for the long single-aisle were insufficient. The aircraft is mainly used by charter carriers that, unlike scheduled airliners, can board and de-board through the front and the rear doors. And there were only 38 orders for the 767-400ER, which lacked the range to operate transatlantic routes from places beyond the U.S. East Coast.

Regional manufacturers have witnessed up-gauging trends, too. Embraer has seen customers for its E-Jet family shift from the smaller 170 and 175 models to the larger 190s and 195s. Bombardier has stretched the initial CRJ100/200, a 50-seater, to become the 98-seat CRJ1000. And as far as the CSeries is concerned, airlines have ordered more CS300s (82) than CS100s (63). The CS300 can seat 160 people in a high-density layout; the CS100 is designed for 110 in a standard configuration.

So while the trend can be observed in almost every program, there is a difference between what is happening with the 737-7 and the A319NEO compared with previous cases: Airlines do not even start ordering the types. The discrepancy in demand is much sharper and exists from the very beginning. But the question is whether this is happening because airlines are moving to better alternatives (stretches of smaller aircraft that have been optimized for the size or new designs) or because market fundamentals are shifting more rapidly than in the past.

Many indications point to the latter. If there was a shift from one manufacturer to another, Canada-based Bombardier or newly emerging Comac from China would surely have noticed. But the CSeries is still stuck at a mere 145 firm orders only weeks before its first flight is expected. And a look at its client base shows that Bombardier has, so far, not succeeded in making inroads into the mainline carrier market. Comac has even fewer firm orders, 75, all of which are from Chinese airlines, and its offering appears to be several years away from entry into service.

While both Boeing and Airbus are recording more orders for the larger variants of their narrowbodies, they have not seriously considered stretching the airframes further. Both are invested in fitting more passengers into the 737-900 and the A321, respectively. Airbus recently announced plans to add an optional overwing exit to the A321 and move the third door backward so that the aircraft can accommodate 236 passengers—up from 220 currently—in a high-density layout.

Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST for a look at how the flightline at this year's Paris air show will take on a new turn with the focus turning to sales of aircraft not yet in flight, or go to AviationWeek.com/video

Orders for New Narrowbodies
AircraftFirm Orders
Sources: Company reports, Aviation Week Intelligence Network

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