Airbus continues to reserve judgment on any progress Pratt & Whitney has made in resolving several production problems plaguing its PW1100G turbofan, as deliveries of Pratt-powered A320neos remain stunted and the first Pratt-powered A321neo sits undelivered more than four months after certification. Out of an expected 200 A320neo-family deliveries by the end of the year, Airbus shipped only 26 during the first quarter, including the first CFM Leap-1A-powered A321neo, signaling a significant “backloading” of the 2017 delivery profile.
Speaking during the company’s first-quarter earnings call with financial analysts, Airbus chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm noted that customers also continue to experience “a number of in-service issues” involving the PW1100G-powered machines and that the company’s ability to meet its 2017 delivery goal will depend on its engine suppliers, particularly Pratt & Whitney.
“The situation in terms of the actually demonstrated performance right now is not satisfactory,” said Wilhelm. “That is why improvements have been defined and the root causes have been analyzed...the key ones on the bearing, on the blades, on the combustion chamber, they are defined, they are coming through. I think you heard a pretty positive tone from [Pratt & Whitney parent company] UTC yesterday in that respect. This still needs to be proved in terms of flight testing and making sure it really does what is expected. So it appears we are going in the right direction, but I always tend to be more cautious until we have demonstrated performance.”
Wilhelm added that if Pratt does what it promises, Airbus will accelerate its A320neo production rate to meet its 200-unit goal by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Wilhelm blamed much of the Airbus Group’s sharp drop in profits during the first quarter to the delays in delivering A320neos. Airbus Commercial Aircraft’s adjusted EBIT in the first quarter totaled €281 million ($307 million), compared with €406 million ($443 million) in the first quarter of last year.
On Wednesday, UTC reported good progress on the solutions to the geared turbofan’s problems and maintained delivery guidance of 350 to 400 engines this year.
During an industry finance conference last month, Pratt & Whitney vice president of sales and marketing for commercial engines Rick Deurloo detailed some of the problems the PW1000G family has encountered. The industrial “piece,” as he called it, involves a shortage of hybrid metallic fan blades due to manufacturing complexities. Deurloo said that Pratt will triple production of the fan blades after opening two new assembly facilities this year. Separate durability deficiencies, particularly in the A320neos operating in India, involve combustor liners. Another problem centers on the Number 3 oil seals in the A320neos’ PW1100G geared turbofan (GTF) engines.
“Basically, it’s causing a lot of unplanned removals by our customers,” Deurloo acknowledged.
Separately, Airbus reported “good progress” on the A350 widebody program, as it delivered 13 of A350-900s in the quarter. It also said the program remains on track to reach the monthly production target of 10 aircraft by the end of 2018. “The level of outstanding work has improved in the industrial system and supply chain bottlenecks are also beginning to improve,” it said. “A key area of focus remains recurring cost convergence, which is challenging, as the ramp-up pace accelerates.”
Overall Airbus group revenues for the first quarter of 2017 increased 7 percent on the same period in 2016 at just under €13 billion ($14.3 billion). The Commercial Aircraft division achieved the strongest revenue growth at 13 percent (to €9.8 billion). The Defence and Space division saw a 17 percent decline, largely attributed the sale of its Defence Electronics business.
Overall new order intake for the group in the first quarter of this year declined by 47 percent. Net order count for airliners totaled only six units.