Airbus confirmed Thursday that it has decided to raise its A320 production rate to 63 per month by next year’s second quarter, despite reservations from key suppliers such as Pratt & Whitney parent company United Technologies and CFM partner Safran. Now producing 55 A320-family jets per month, Airbus held talks with several suppliers earlier this year over its desire to raise the rate beyond the previous goal of 60, but not without objections from Safran CEO Philip Petitcolon, who told analysts at the company’s recent first quarter earnings call that his company cannot commit to such an increase while deliveries of CFM Leap turbofans continue to run about six weeks late. Safran maintains an equal partnership with GE Aviation in the CFM joint venture that builds one of the engine choices for the A320neo, the Leap-1A, and the CFM56 for the legacy A320ceo.
“We understand the needs of our client and if we are able to respond favorably we will do so, but we don’t want to start discussions on a commitment beyond what was agreed 18 months ago,” he said.
Nevertheless, a written statement sent to AIN by Airbus seemed to contradict Petitcolon. "We confirm our Airbus supply chain commits to reach rate 63 from Q2 2019 to match ongoing high demand on the on the bestselling A320 family," wrote an Airbus spokesman.
In the midst of a production transition from the CFM56 to the Leap family of turbofans, CFM has committed to delivering 1,000 of the legacy engines and between 1,100 and 1,200 of the new model this year. However, a delivery delay of between four and five weeks CFM executive vice president and general manager François Bastin reported in January has now turned to six, as the company triples its weekly Leap output from 2017's rate.
“It’s not a walk in the park, of course; it was never meant to be,” Bastin said at the time. “So we have some disruptions and we are working to address them. We are a handful of weeks behind demand, which is always too much. Anything but zero is too much. At the same time it is that much and only that much. If you look at the grand scheme of things...it’s a tremendous ramp-up that had been set years ago. So we are keeping pace I would say.”
More recently, United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes described his company’s response to the narrowbody rate hikes by Airbus and Boeing as a struggle. “It is something we are struggling with today,” he told analysts during UTC’s earnings call on Tuesday. “At Pratt & Whitney we are at rate 55 with [geared turbofan] engines...and we have committed to take the rate up over the next couple of years. But for second- and third-tier suppliers, I question if the sub-tiers really have enough capacity. If we are going to see big jumps [in A320neo and 737 production rates], it will be a problem, so you will see big bottlenecks.”