Singapore Air Show

Asia-Pacific region is key to Airbus’s future

 - January 27, 2010, 10:08 AM

Airbus closed 2009 on a positive commercial note with orders for 85 aircraft received in December–27 from Asia-Pacific customers, including 16 A330-200s for China Eastern Airlines, 10 A320s for Air New Zealand and one A320 for Zest Airways of the Philippines. Despite the continuing weakness of the world economy, the European airframer expects to maintain 2010 orders and deliveries at 2009 levels, especially to China.

Last year, Airbus delivered 498 aircraft, establishing a new company record for a single year–up from 483 delivered in 2008. The 2009 figure includes 402 A320 family aircraft, 86 A330/340s–both records for a single year–and 10 A380s. In addition, its military aircraft division delivered 16 light- and medium-transport aircraft.

Airbus CEO customers John Leahy last month told journalists he expects to log orders for 250 to 300 airplanes in 2010–the year in which the company celebrates its 40th anniversary and in which its EADS parent has its 10th birthday. The manufacturer ended 2009 with an annual total of 310 orders, including 228 A320 single-aisle airliners, 78 A330/ A340/A350XWB twin- aisles and four new orders for the A380 super-widebody, two of them from Korean Air. Three years after launch, the OEM has logged orders for more than 500 of the next generation A350XWB.

According to Airbus, total 2009 orders represent 54 percent of the worldwide market share for 100-plus-seat commercial aircraft. Leahy said he expects a turnaround in 2012.

President and CEO Tom Enders confirmed an order backlog of 3,500 models. Production rates are set to stay flat at around 300 per year, but he said they will not fall–contrary to the expectations of several leading Airbus suppliers.

Enders said one of the reasons output remains relatively high is that high fuel prices have boosted airlines’ resolve to replace older aircraft with more fuel-efficient models. Fewer cancellations were recorded last year than in 2008, he said, despite earlier expectations that airframer’s backlogs could be undermined by fallout from the financial crisis.

Today, China accounts for 15 percent of Airbus sales worldwide and has 320 of its airliners on order, most of them, coincidentally, A320s. The vast country’s carriers are expecting delivery of almost 100 jets this year, up from around 80 delivered in 2009. Airbus forecasts that it will sell almost 300 A380s to China alone over the next 20 years and that these aircraft will service both international and domestic routes.

The A320 joint venture final assembly line that opened in Tianjin in September 2008 to date has delivered 11 aircraft that, according to Airbus, are of the same quality as those assembled in Toulouse and Hamburg. It aims to produce four aircraft a month by the end of 2011.

In addition to the Tianjin assembly line, Airbus will manufacture around 5 percent of the A350XWBs in China and it has established a logistics center in Tianjin for the distribution of parts throughout its Chinese production network. The center is due to be fully operational next month.

Meanwhile, Airbus is seriously considering re-engining its A320 family, motivated in part by competition from China’s C919 and Bombardier’s C Series narrowbodies. Airbus and Boeing narrowbody backlogs will ensure production until 2015, Leahy said, adding that the decision on re-engining will be taken by the end of this year with a view to having the updated A320 in service around 2015.

At the Dubai airshow in November, Airbus unveiled plans to incorporate the Sharklet winglet to the A320 design. The new winglet promises to deliver fuel savings of up to 3.5 percent and the prospect of 150 nm more range or 1,100 pounds more payload.

The sharklets, which may also be offered for retrofit to existing A320s, are expected to be available on new-build aircraft beginning in late 2012. Air New Zealand has specified Sharklets for the 14 A320s it has on order. Upgrades to the A321 and A319 are to follow six and 12 months later with the position of the A318 under review.

Enders expressed some “disappointment” that only 10 A380s were delivered last year, including four to Singapore Airlines and two to Qantas in Australia. This figure was down from an original forecast of 18 that already had been revised downward to 14.

The latest operational difficulties with the A380, which entered service with Singapore Airlines two years ago, concerns a fuel gauge problem on a Qantas aircraft due to operate on the Melbourne-to-Los Angeles route. The same problem had already kept two other Qantas A380s on the tarmac last spring. And in December, a Singapore Airlines A380 had to return to Paris following an electrical fault in its kitchens. In addition, Air France’s first A380 has been grounded three times.

As of mid-January, Airbus had delivered 24 A380s, two thirds of them to airlines in the Asia-Pacific region, including 10 to Singapore Airlines and six to Qantas. Airbus’s backlog of 202 orders for the double-decker includes delivery of three copies to China Southern in 2011, one each in 2011 and 2012 to Malaysia Airlines and one to Thai Airways International in September 2012, deferred from this year.

Enders acknowledged that Airbus has “not yet come to grips” with the complexity of the manufacturing and engineering processes causing delivery delays. The company’s target is to deliver “at least 20” A380s this year, he said. Although the troubled Airbus program will not break even for “years to come,” he said the aircraft is increasingly popular and airlines are making money with it.   

Aerial displays go into overtime this weekend

The weekend aerial displays at this year’s Singapore Airshow will feature a bonus 30-minute show separate from the traditional 60-minute display. With two slots this Saturday and Sunday, the aerial displays will include a one-hour presentation at 11:30 a.m. and an extra 30-minute display at 3 p.m.

An F-111 strike aircraft operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be making its last performance in Asia, lighting up the skies above Changi Airport by performing the “dump and burn” maneuver. In addition, the A-10 Thunderbolt II–being flown here by the U.S. Air Force–will be making its first Asian show debut.

Also appearing for the first time here in the Singapore Airshow flying displays is the PC-21, a basic trainer that was recently acquired by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). The transonic Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and supersonic Korean T-50 Golden Eagle, both of which are in the running for the RSAF’s advanced jet trainer program, will also take part in the daily flying displays. In addition, the RSAF AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and F-16 Falcon fighter jet will come together for an Integrated air display segment.