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11/16/2018 | 10 MINUTE READ

The markets: Aerospace (2019)

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The world’s two largest aerospace manufacturers, once again, shared center stage as commercial aircraft stayed in the composites spotlight, expected to be increasingly heavy users of carbon fiber composites.


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The world’s two largest aerospace manufacturers, once again, shared center stage as commercial aircraft stayed in the composites spotlight. Expected to be increasingly heavy users of carbon fiber composites, for primary and secondary structures, they’ll also use a mixture of glass and carbon-reinforced thermosets and thermoplastics in a growing and diverse suite of interior and semi-structural applications. 

Changes in 2018 made The Boeing Co. (Chicago, IL, US) and Airbus (Toulouse, France) duopoly even stronger through consolidation. In July 2018, Embraer (São Paulo, Brazil) established, with Boeing, a strategic joint venture (80% owned by Boeing) to accelerate aerospace growth by combining Embraer’s regional commercial craft with Boeing’s larger and longer-range portfolio. This followed the Airbus and Bombardier (Quebec, Canada) announcement in October 2017 that Airbus had acquired a 50.01% interest in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP), which the two companies say brings together Airbus’ global reach and scale with Bombardier’s jet aircraft family, positioning both partners to fully unlock the value of the C Series platform. At the 2018 Farnborough Air Show event, Airbus and Bombardier announced that customer JetBlue has reportedly purchased 60 Airbus A220-300s, the new designation for the former C-Series aircraft.

Both of the majors have predicted upward trends. Boeing, in its Commercial Market Outlook 2018-2037, says growth in airline passenger traffic (revenue passenger-kilometers or RPK) will be 4.7% per year.  To support this fleet growth, Boeing forecasts a need for more than 42,700 new deliveries, valued at over $6 trillion, for growth and replacement in the next 20 years to meet demand in the coming two decades. About 40% of all new aircraft will be delivered to airlines in the Asia-Pacific region (China’s passenger air travel has increased for several years at about 10% per year), says Boeing. An additional 40% will go to carriers in North America and Europe. Airlines in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Russia/Central Asia will demand the 22% that remains. 

Single-aisle airplanes are expected to command the largest share of new deliveries, with airlines needing more than 31,360 of them, fully 74% of the demand during the forecast period. These new airplanes will continue to stimulate growth for carriers and will provide required replacements for older, less-efficient models. Notably, Boeing sees 8,070 widebody, twin-aisle planes in its forecast, a count that’s down from 2016’s forecast of 9,100. The balance will consist of regional jets (2,320) and freighters (980). Click here to download Boeing’s current Commercial Market Outlookhttps://www.boeing.com/resources/boeingdotcom/commercial/market/commercial-market-outlook/assets/downloads/2018-cmo-09-11.pdf .

Airbus anticipates in its Global Market Forecast for 2018-2037 that air traffic will grow by 4.4% (down from last year’s forecast of 4.5%) annually and, therefore, will increase in value to nearly US$5.8 trillion, up from its 2016 estimate of US$5.2 trillion. Airbus estimates that total commercial aircraft demand by 2037 will number 37,390 units (that’s up from 33,700 predicted in 2016) — 36,560 of them for passenger service and the remainder, 830, freighters. The Asia-Pacific region will account for 42% of the demand, while the US and all of Europe will together account for 35%. About 29% of the new planes will replace aging craft, but fully 71% will fuel overall fleet growth. Single-aisle commercial jets will dominate the market, making up 76% of new units. Much more data is available in the complete Airbus Global Market Forecast for 2018-2037https://www.airbus.com/aircraft/market/global-market-forecast.html .

Brazil-based aircraft manufacturer Embraer Commercial Aviation (São José dos Campos, Brazil) has released its Embraer Market Outlook 2018-2037, for aircraft with less than 150 seats. The company predicts 2.9% annual growth in GDP, a 3% annual growth in the global fleet and 4.5% annual growth in RPK. The Asia-Pacific region represents the largest number of aircraft deliveries during the forecast period, at 28%. Embraer forecasts the sub-150 seat, single-aisle fleet-in-service will increase from 9,000 aircraft in 2018 to 16,000 by 2037, a 76% increase. 

A new study, as reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine (AW&ST, Sept. 3-16, 2018), provides a clearer look at the overall size of the aerospace industry. The Teal Group (Fairfax, VA, US) and AeroDynamic Advisory (Ann Arbor, MI, US) collaborated on the study, which defined “aerospace” as all activities pertaining to the development, production, maintenance, and support of aircraft (commercial and defense) and spacecraft. AeroDynamic Advisory’s Kevin Michaels, who has contributed to CW in the past, reports in the AW&ST column that global aerospace is currently worth $838 billion, a larger figure than most previous estimates.

Aircraft manufacturing (including Tier 1s and sub-tiers) makes up 54% of that total figure. Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) makes up a surprising 27% of aerospace activity. Satellites and space (7%) and UAVs (5%) make up the rest (the remaining 7% was tagged as ‘other’). Not surprisingly, the US tops the country list, comprising 49% of total market activity ($408 billion), followed by France ($69 billion) and China ($61 billion). According to Michaels, most of China’s aerospace activity is currently focused on aircraft and spacecraft for its own consumption: “China will likely surpass France for second place in the next decade.” Michaels concludes that strong air travel growth means that there’s room for growth over the next few years, and “there should be plenty of room at the table for everyone.” The column is available at http://aviationweek.com/commercial-aviation/opinion-just-how-big-global-aerospace-industry

The big question for the composites industry is, will OEMs choose composite materials for narrowbody single-aisle aircraft, the fastest-growing and most popular aircraft segment? There has been much speculation about Boeing’s new mid-market airplane (NMA), an aircraft not yet officially launched but that is intended to replace the 757. It is expected to be larger than the 737 MAX but smaller than the 787-8. Kevin McAllister, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes who spoke at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, reportedly said the demand for the NMA (unofficially the 797) has been validated in consultations with more than 60 airlines. In the composites world, the big question is whether the NMA will have a composites fuselage and wing — design work is underway now, says McAllister. 

Experts have expressed doubt whether the composite fuselage structure that helped successfully lightweight the 787 and increased passenger comfort by solving metal-related pressure and humidity issues, could be successfully applied to replace what would otherwise be much thinner aluminum fuselage structures on replacements for single-aisle aircraft. That concern, however, helped revive interest in already certified hybrid materials called fiber-metal laminates (FMLs), which combine metal and composite products. Designed to take advantage of the best qualities of each material class, they were developed particularly to counteract the riveted aluminum aircraft structure’s vulnerability to fatigue cracking. Pioneered by the earliest incarnation of GKN Aerospace’s (Redditch, UK) Fokker business (Papendrecht, The Netherlands), FMLs today feature alternating bonded layers of treated aluminum sheet and fiber/epoxy prepreg. The combination addresses not only the critical issue of fatigue, but also provides a means to lightweight thinner single-aisle aircraft fuselage skins, yet remain damage-resistant. 

Also on the aerospace materials front, in March 2018 the world’s largest supplier of carbon fiber, Toray (Tokyo, Japan), acquired thermoplastic composites specialist TenCate Advanced Composites (Morgan Hill, CA, US) for US$1.1 billion. Toray, which did not have any thermoplastics capability prior to the acquisition, clearly had next-generation commercial aircraft structures in mind by adding TenCate to its portfolio. Indeed, thermoplastic composites are expected to be seriously considered for use in the Boeing NMA/797 aircraft, as well as possible clean-sheet replacements for the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. Composites use on redesigns of the 737 and the A320 will depend on fabrication processes being able to meet the production pace of these planes. Boeing and Airbus have said that they are targeting 60 planes per month (two planes a day), which looms large when compared to the production rate of the 787 (14/month) and A350 (10/month). In any case, composites seem to have earned a permanent place in commercial aerostructures.

In an increasingly global marketplace, it was probably inevitable: Denver, CO, US-based aerospace industry startup Boom Technology revealed that it is building the XB-1, a flying one-third-scale demonstrator, dubbed Baby Boom, to demonstrate the key technologies that will be used on its coming full-scale, faster-than-sound Boom commercial aircraft. Boom is one of several groups looking to replace the long retired supersonic transport, the Concorde, jointly developed and built during the late 1960s by Aerospatiale and British Aircraft Corp. (BAC). Boom’s XB-1 and ultimately, the full-size Boom jet, will benefit from an all-composite construction that will exhibit a much lower coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) than was possible with the Concorde. (The latter’s all-aluminum airframe reportedly experienced up to 300 mm of expansion over its length due to air friction at supersonic speed.) And, reduced weight will contribute to the Boom jet’s operational efficiencies. As a result, the company predicts its jet will serve customers at ticket prices one quarter that of those charged for the Concorde (in today’s dollars) and shave 45 minutes from the Concorde’s fabled four-hour New York City-to-London flight time. The Baby Boom is now scheduled to fly in late 2019.

In 2017, the continued growth of private efforts to launch commercial satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) came into sharp focus in the composites industry. The majority of such satellites, it turns out, are small (SmallSats), many literally smaller than the proverbial breadbox (CubeSats). One result is that the equipment required to place them into orbit needn’t be as imposing or, importantly, as expensive as the Saturn, Delta and other massive launch vehicles we’ve grown accustomed to. There is also a growing backlog of grounded satellites of small size waiting to fly into orbit and get to work. CW got wind in 2017 of an enterprising composites-oriented launch system manufacturer, Rocket Lab, founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, CEO. Rocket Lab’s administrative, design and manufacturing operations are located in Auckland, NZ, and in Huntington Beach, CA, US. In October 2015, the National Aeronautics and Space Admin. (NASA, Washington, DC, US) awarded Rocket Lab a Venture Class Launch Services contract, valued at US$6.95 million, for demonstration CubeSat launches to LEO on its Electron rocket. Provided with additional funding from Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD, US) and other sources, Rocket Lab was recently valued at more than US$1 billion. 

Notably, Rocket Lab advertises dedicated (single-customer) launches at a mere ~US$5 million — compared to a reported US$62 million for a ride on Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Hawthorne, CA, US) much larger Falcon 9 — and promises either a dedicated delivery “when and where required” or a rideshare service. In terms of size, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA, Denver, CO, US) Vulcan new-generation launch vehicle is projected to lift up to 20 MT to LEO in payload fairings 5.4m diameter and up to 26.5m long, but the comparatively small 17m-high, 1.2m-diameter Electron is designed to lift a nominal payload CubeSat-sized 150-kg to LEO. The difference in size, power requirements and payload capacity, and the relative simplicity of Electron — its launch components are not reusable, so it does not need the high sophistication required of a system that must return to Earth, refuel and relaunch multiple times — make it an appealing bargain for small-satellite customers. It also will make Rocket Lab a regular consumer of composite materials to build the carbon-fiber-reinforced outer cases that surround both of the rocket’s two stages. Another innovation that Rocket Lab and other space companies employ is 3D printing of rocket engines. Rocket Lab’s rapid scale-up strategy (and lower launch costs) is due in part to additive manufacturing for the Rutherford rocket engines — nine for the first stage of Electron, and one for its second stage, printed using titanium and super alloys. Given the size of the SmallSat market and the length of current launch backlog, it’s likely Rocket Lab will have competitors, and that more than one will also build with composites.

Meanwhile, ULA in early 2017 revealed it would replace its Atlas and Delta rockets with the noted next-generation Vulcans. Supplier Ruag Space was selected to provide low-cost/high-quality out-of-autoclave fabrication of Vulcan’s composite primary structures. Ruag also will manufacture 5.4m payload fairings and 400-series interstage adapters for ULA’s newer Atlas V rocket. It was recently announced that ULA will buy engines for the Vulcan from Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s startup Blue Origin (Kent, WA, US), passing over the heritage supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne (Rancho Cordova, CA, US).