Manufacturers Unhitch Delivery Wagon from Order Book Horse

 - June 11, 2010, 8:27 AM
By the end of 2010, Emirates expects to have taken delivery of 15 A380s out of 90 on firm order. Airbus has de-linked delivery rates from order backlogs. (Copyright Airbus)

Airbus COO for customers John Leahy remains optimistic, even when faced with no increase in deliveries of new aircraft in 2010; one man’s zero growth is another’s stable marketplace. Airliner shipments have climbed steadily since 2002 as the European manufacturer’s order backlog (and that of U.S. competitor Boeing) soared on the back of the past economic cycle. 

Historically, international passenger traffic trends have tracked those of global GDP–usually by a multiple of 1.5, with peaks 50 percent higher and troughs 50 percent lower than the economic trend. In turn, manufacturers have sought to tie production rates to order-backlog volumes, which theoretically meant they could moderate the amount of future business. For example, Airbus maintained a conservative 5:1 ratio between outstanding orders and current deliveries during 1990 to 2004, while Boeing's 3.3 ratio ensured a 40-month production backlog. 

The consequent rollercoaster ride as orders and deliveries chased GDP has proved all too predictable–until recently, that is. Now, Leahy reports that change has been under way, as first Airbus and then Boeing have disengaged the two elements. The move escaped some forecasters, who mistakenly predicted 2009 shipments would fall dramatically, echoing previous cyclic trends. Of any doomsayers foreseeing a delayed downturn this year or next, Leahy said simply, “They’re still not right.”

Just as (from mid-2008 to the end of last year) passenger traffic essentially matched global GDP trends, thereby losing the established 1.5 multiple, recent aircraft delivery volumes have lost their link to order backlogs. The past five years have seen more moderate production trends, which will continue as the overbooking that accompanied airlines' insatiable–and unsustainable–demand gets shaken out through cancellations or deferrals. “[From] 2005 onwards, deliveries have not increased with orders,” said Leahy. “The current ‘cycle’ will be flat.”