Airbus Carefully Ramps Up Production Across Full Line

 - June 6, 2011, 7:00 AM
Fabrice Brégier, Airbus’ COO, sees increased production rates for all models. (Photo: Airbus)

Building on a strong upturn in global traffic, Airbus is ramping up production of all its models–the A320 family, A330 and A380–dealing with several supply chain issues, a couple of them quite unusual and impossible to anticipate.

“After minus 4 percent [growth] in 2009, we are now experiencing 7- to 8-percent growth,” Airbus COO Fabrice Brégier emphasized June 1 in a meeting with the French aerospace journalist association (AJPAE) in Paris. Hence, the company is accelerating manufacturing.

For the fast-selling A320 single-aisle family, the increase will be from 36 to 42 aircraft per month. This year, a first step is 38. Early next year, the rate will be at 40, with a target of 42 in the fourth quarter.

“If we could go to 45, we would have a market for that,” Brégier said. But the supply chain would find this production rate hard to follow. According to Brégier, those companies concerned are mostly the smaller ones. Some of these businesses had financial troubles during the recent downturn.

Therefore, Airbus is encouraging them to consolidate. “They could be more efficient, financially more robust and could more easily transfer work to low-cost countries,” Brégier suggested. To help those small companies that are having a hard time, Airbus is a partner in Aerofund–a financial support organization that also has Safran as a partner.

But difficulties can also affect major first-tier Airbus partners. EADS subsidiary Aerolia, an aerostructure specialist, has a factory in Tunisia. It had to close during the country’s revolution early this year. Growth plans have been postponed by two or three months, Brégier said.

On the A330, the production rate is to increase from nine per month, early in 2012, to 10 per month in the second quarter of 2013.

Higher in the gamut, Brégier said about 25 A380s should be delivered this year, after 18 in 2010. However, “We are keeping a close eye on the uncertainties Rolls-Royce is facing with one Trent 900 supplier,” Brégier said.

The supplier is Japan-based IHI, a manufacturer of turbine blades. The devasting March earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan seriously damaged its factory. According to Brégier, after having been stopped for several weeks, the facility has been restarted. Nominal production levels are expected to be met early in July.

Meanwhile, the “Help Wanted” sign is out at Airbus. The OEM recruited 2,200 employees in 2010. This year, Brégier sees 4,000 people being hired in Europe.