Virgin America’s A320Neo Order Propels Airbus’ 2010 Sales Beyond Boeing’s

 - January 17, 2011, 6:21 AM

A late surge in new airliner orders during December took Airbus’s sales tally for 2010 to 644 aircraft (compared with 574 in 2009), just edging out rival Boeing’s total orders for 625 airliners last year. Among the European airframer’s orders was its 10,000th, which formed part of a deal for 60 A320 narrowbodies for Virgin America–30 of which will be the new re-engined A320Neo model with its promised 15-percent reduction in fuel burn. Virgin signed its contract on December 29, but Airbus waited for today’s annual press conference to announce it. Airbus claimed to hold 51 percent of the world market for airliners with 100 or more passenger seats last year.

Airbus CEO Tom Enders reported that 2010 had not “been a bad year” for the company, while acknowledging that it still faces a struggle to restore profitability in the face of inflated production costs and a disadvantaged exchange rate. He claimed that Airbus has “significantly” surpassed the cost-reduction goals it has set itself through the Power 8 and Power 8 Plus programs.

The Airbus order backlog now stands at 3,552 aircraft, worth just over half a trillion dollars at catalogue prices. Airbus COO for customers John Leahy acknowledged that this backlog could yet see some reduction through cancelled orders in 2011, due to continued uncertainty in the air transport sector. In 2010, Airbus delivered a total of 510 aircraft (up from 498 in 2009).

Enders also said that during 2011 Airbus aims to double output of its A380 widebody from just one aircraft per month to two. It wants to increase this again to three per month in 2012. However, the anticipated boost in A380 production probably won’t happen until the second half of this year. Tom Williams, executive vice president for programs, reported that extensive engine inspection and replacement would result in output disruptions. Meanwhile, output of the A330 aircraft has also increased, from eight to nine units per month, with the launch last year of the new A330 Freighter.

Another major challenge for Airbus in 2011 involves the development of the new A350XWB. COO Fabrice Brégier told the press today that the company has completed the first central wing box for the airliner, and that it expected to finish assembly of the first aircraft toward the end of this year. Airbus then expects a further 18 months of ground and air tests before the first aircraft delivery, earmarked for early 2013.

Brégier said that the program is progressing well, albeit cautiously. Mindful no doubt of earlier problems in the development and early production of the A380, he added that the 350 program is following the maxim that: “You don’t move from one step to the other, you don’t pass milestones until you are ready, because otherwise you end up paying twice.”