Paris Air Show

Production planners sweat ballooning backlogs

 - December 12, 2006, 10:43 AM

Here at this week’s Paris show, Airbus is introducing the A350, a larger variant of the A330 being presented at a global show for the first time. The latest model follows a disappointing period in orders for Airbus twin-aisle twinjets. During last year and up until early this May, Airbus took orders for just 28 A330-200s (19 percent of the market) against a combined 121 for the Boeing 767 and its replacement, the 787.

Earlier in the decade, during 2000-03 time frame, the A330-200 had won a 64-percent share of relevant orders, prompting Boeing to consider a 767 follow-on. Now, the A350 and 787-8 and -9 are aimed squarely at the same 250- to 300-seat, 7,500- to 8,500-nm market after airlines rejected the proposed Longer Range 767-400ER (despite initial orders having been taken).

By the end of April this year, Airbus had sold a total of 5,389 aircraft of all sizes to 208 customers. Of these, 3,868 had been delivered, leaving a backlog of 1,521, equivalent to about 4.2 years’ work at the current production rate of 30 aircraft per month.

Production Rates To Increase?

If airlines continue to commit to new aircraft this week here at Le Bourget and through the second half of the year, both manufacturers may begin to worry about the implications for production stability toward the end of the decade, if build rates are to meet delivery requirements. One senior Airbus marketing official recently voiced concern that 2005 orders could easily exceed 1,000 units–once an airliner salesman’s dream total but now potentially a production nightmare. (Boeing will not easily forget the problems of cranking up 737 production very fast in the late 1990s, an exercise that ultimately cost the commercial airplane group president Ron Woodard his job just seven days before the 2000 Farnborough airshow.)

Production rates must increase, if Airbus analysts are correct. Market forecast and research vice president Laurent Rouaud predicts requirements for 17,328 new aircraft (including freighters) over the next 20 years. Such a level of production–866 a year–has not been seen since the 914 delivered in 1999, and is significantly greater than the annual 733 being predicted in the equivalent Airbus forecast in 2000. Including 2005’s estimated deliveries, Airbus statistics show a 2002-05 average rate of 638 a year.

Of course, salesmen would like to regard 1,000 aircraft as a minimum for individual types and Airbus is fast approaching that number of A330/A340 orders, which totalled 905 on May 1. At 3,494, orders for A320-series single-aisle aircraft were tantalizingly close to 3,500.

According to Airbus, 61 of the 140 ordered A340-500/600s have been delivered to nine of the 13 customers, with a claimed market share of 55 percent against the competing Boeing 777-200LR and -300ER. The first delivery at the new optional 380-metric-ton maximum takeoff weight A340-600 would be made in about 12 months.