27 September 2007

BA – New Strategies New orders but Mr Walsh is not yet done

The BA blockbuster announcement today of its order for Airbus A380s (12), and 24 787s is the big news.

However there is some tea leaf reading behind the headlines which shows a change from the World's Favourite Airline.

The BA Fleet upgrade has been anticipated for some time. It actually says more about what was not decided than the headline numbers. Firstly let’s look at the big puppy. With one of the largest 747-400s (57) in the world adding 12 A380s doesn’t look like a lot. Actually it isn’t. BA is still considering what to do with its 747-400 replacement. If it doesn’t order 747-8s then I for one will be really surprised. But it will be the makeup of the fleet. For the past 10 years BA has been slowly moving to the more efficient 777 aircraft. With almost equal numbers of 777s and 747s in the long haul mix. So there is an outside chance that they may go for a 3 type 787/777/A380 combo for the fleet rather than a 4 type 787/747/777/A380. Given the crew requirements and the bargain prices on A380s right now – that might be a good choice. So where does this leave the A350XWB? Sadly I think this is going to be a non-starter with BA. It would be foolhardy for BA to have a fleet that comprises 6 major types (A319-A321s for short and medium haul), both A350 and 787s for thin medium and long haul 777, 747 and A380 for long haul. That’s a lot of engineering support. Mr. Walsh is no fan of these old behaviors of having less synergy.

So let’s continue our examination of BA’s equipment and strategy. Noticeably absent from today’s announcement was GE. GE’s much heralded initial order of GE90 powered 777s turned to a bust as early performance of the aircraft was spotty at best and diabolical at worst. Quietly BA now has more RR powered 777s than GE90s. All the new types A380 and 787s will be powered by the British manufacturer. This gives us a clue to Boeing’s offer of the 747-8. BA is probably giving Boeing the cold shoulder on the 50 seat enhanced version of its largest plane. Why? We believe it’s because of the engine choice – Boeing has selected the GEnx as the exclusive power plant for the jumbo. BA is not happy. BA has the opportunity to both punish and hold the stick out for Boeing. More 787 orders and probably 747-8 orders if Boeing was to offer RR engines. With Airbus desperate to get a conventional airline on board with the A350 could they be offering BA a super deal also?

Finally in our examination of BA, let’s look at a little heralded announcement that BA is going to deploy 757s on some new routes from mainland Europe to the USA. Given that only a handful of BA’s old 757s are ETOPS approved that means either major mods or acquiring some newer ones. BA’s 757s are among the oldest around. Putting winglets and making them ETOPS would be a pretty heavy task. As the 757s were earmarked for disposal – it reflects that BA has not yet put a decent strategy together for Transatlantic open skies. Further by formally stating they are NOT going after the premium all business market (much to the relief of the 4 Premium new entrants) it says that BA is sticking true to type. We can be sure that ANY move by BA to set up shop across the Atlantic from the mainland will be met with stiff resistance. Well with the possible exception of an Athens or Milan base!

Clearly Mr. Walsh is not yet done. Stay tuned

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