A380, 787 models of global cooperation

Paris Air Show » 2005
December 12, 2006, 8:12 AM

The April 27 first flight of the Airbus A380 was undoubtedly a triumph for Europe’s aerospace industry. But it was also an occasion to celebrate for many companies on the other side of the Atlantic. According to EADS, which owns 80 percent of Airbus, more than 300 U.S. suppliers in 42 American states produce nearly 50 percent of the A380.

Equally, the unveiling in the same week of Boeing’s revised 787 configuration along with a raft of new orders for the type came as heartening news for the many European firms that are helping make the Dreamliner a reality.

The strong transatlantic content in both major new airliner programs raises questions about the purpose and logic of the long-running dispute between U.S. and European officials over allegedly anticompetitive subsidies for rivals Airbus and Boeing. If the A380 is almost as American as apple pie and the B787 is no less European in make-up, then what is all the fuss about? Who is subsidizing who and to what end?

U.S. firm Goodrich has a particularly hefty stake in the Airbus triple-decker, with contracts that could be worth more than $6 billion over the life of the program. These include the main body and wing landing gear systems, worth an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion over 20 years, plus evacuation systems, structural elements, air data sensors and flight control systems.

Alcoa, which is supplying aluminum sheet, plate, extrusions, forgings and castings plus fastening, fitting, joining and assembly products, added around 350 jobs last year to meet the demand–250 at the Torrance, California headquarters of Alcoa Fastening Systems and 100 more at the Davenport Works of Alcoa Mill Products in Riverdale, Iowa. These are new American jobs created expressly in response to the needs of the European program.

U.S. giant Honeywell expects its selection as flight management system supplier to result in revenues of $200 million over the next 20 years. It further anticipates its share of the $1.5 billion contract for wheels and brakes, which it produces in partnership with the UK’s Dunlop Aerospace, to be worth $700 million.

The value of the secondary electric power distribution and aircraft environment surveillance systems Honeywell is supplying is put at $710 million. And the company is also delivering the air data inertial reference unit, ozone converter (worth an estimated $30 million), satellite communications system (in partnership with Thales) and electromechanical thrust reverser actuation system (with Hispano-Suiza).

Eaton could see revenues of $200 million from using its 5,000-psi fluid power technology to produce the A380’s hydraulic power generation system. And Parker Aerospace could earn a similar sum from its contract to supply the fuel measurement and management systems.

Cost-Effective Technology

Boeing, meanwhile, has focused on selecting the best and most cost-effective technology to meet its ambitious weight and efficiency goals for the 787, regardless of geographic origin.

The airplane is being designed, built and tested in a virtual environment using software from Paris-based Dassault Systèmes, whose U.S. subsidiary Delmia is supplying the software that will define the assembly and maintenance processes and provide shop floor personnel with three-dimensional work instructions.

Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica helped Boeing develop the materials technologies for the 787, resulting in the radical choice of a largely composite primary structure. Earlier this year Alenia and Vought Aircraft Industries formed the Global Aeronautica joint venture, which will integrate their respective center and rear fuselage sections that amount to more than 60 percent of the 787’s fuselage at a new plant in Charleston, South Carolina.

Another member of the 787 airframe technology team, Latécoère of France, became Boeing’s first French supplier of major airframe structures with its selection to supply the passenger doors, a contract expected to be worth more than $1.3 billion over the life of the program.

The Dreamliner’s systems architecture was defined by a team that included France’s Zodiac, Messier-Bugatti and Thales, along with Diehl and Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg from Germany plus FR-HiTemp, Smiths Aerospace and BAE Systems from the UK.

Smiths subsequently won the contract to develop the common core system, estimating potential sales of the distributed avionics computing network at more than $1 billion. Another $1.6 billion could result from the company’s selection to supply the landing gear and high lift actuation systems.

Messier-Dowty, under its first prime contract for a Boeing commercial airplane, will supply the main and nose landing gear. Fellow Snecma subsidiary Labinal will supply the electrical wiring systems and a third group member, Messier-Bugatti, is developing the wheels and electrically operated brakes, the latter making their first appearance on a commercial airplane; Goodrich is the alternate brake supplier.

Thales is providing the electrical power conversion system plus the integrated standby flight display. Two U.S. subsidiaries of another French company, Groupe Zodiac, are on the supplier list: Monogram Systems in California will provide the waste and water system, and Air Cruisers of New Jersey the escape slides.

Germany’s Diehl Luftfahrt Elektronik will supply the Dreamliner’s LED-based main cabin lighting system. It is doing the same, though with a mix of LED and fluorescent light sources, for the A380.

The UK’s Ultra Electronics will supply the innovative electrothermal wing ice protection system (WIPS), an award the company expected to generate more than $200 million of original equipment and aftermarket sales. Another UK company, GKN Aerospace, will provide the WIPS heating mats, though the heater elements come from Connecticut-based Thermion Systems.

Both new airplanes, of course, will be available with a choice of engines from either Britain’s Rolls-Royce or its U.S. rivals. Honeywell is supplying the pneumatic systems for both A380 engines, the Trent 900 and GE/ Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GPT7200. The Trent 900 will also use a fuel delivery system, sensor suite and fan case sections supplied by Goodrich, while Snecma subsidiary Techspace Aero provides the low pressure compressor stators for the GEnx engine, General Electric’s candidate to power the 787.

‘International Airliners’

“Modern commercial aircraft are as global as the companies that make them,” Airbus North America chairman Allan McArtor commented while addressing Washington’s International Aviation Club in March. “No longer are there American airliners or European airliners, only international airliners.”

As Europeans and Americans continue to debate what constitutes a subsidy and whether such funding should be permitted for aircraft developments, the comprehensively transatlantic character of both the A380 and B787 programs perhaps prompts pause for thought as to who would actually emerge the winners and losers in the still looming trade war. Would the ending of all state support for these programs ultimately result in lost contracts and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, amounting to a situation in which political leaders would be cutting off the aerospace industry’s nose to spite its face? 

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