December 31, 2012
Guy Norris Los Angeles and Jens Flottau Frankfurt
With another hectic year ahead for the commercial aircraft manufacturers, 2013 will see a shift in focus to widebody developments with the first flight of the Airbus A350 and stretched Boeing 787-9, and more clarity over the fate of the smaller A350-800 and a timetable for the 777X.
The single-aisle market will see first flight of Bombardier's CSeries, design freeze for Boeing's 737 MAX and progress on engines for the Airbus A320NEO with flight tests of Pratt & Whitney's PW1100G and ground tests of CFM's Leap-1A—the Leap-1C version will power Comac's C919, assembly of which is to begin in 2013. Embraer is expected to launch its 'G2' successor to the E-Jet series later in the year.
Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) forecasts production of 9,287 commercial and regional airliners valued at over $994 billion over the five-year period 2013-17. Boeing will lead with 43% of production, with Airbus at 36%. While the European manufacturer will take 49% of the 5,302-aircraft narrowbody market, Boeing will have 65% of the 2,182-aircraft widebody market.
What will make 2013 particularly challenging for Airbus and Boeing is that the wave of development activity coincides with production levels rising to historic highs. Both manufacturers are keenly aware of the potential for disaster if their planned ramp-up and development schedules are impacted by supply-chain issues or engineering capacity shortfalls.
As Airbus starts flight testing and initial production of the A350, it also has to ensure that the transition from the current A320 family to the A320NEO goes smoothly, while managing an increasingly strained supply chain and weathering economic uncertainty.
The next 12-24 months will also tell whether Airbus has learned from its own, as well as Boeing's, past mistakes. Although not originally planned, Boeing ended up running the 747-8 and 787 development programs in parallel and wants to avoid repeating that. While Boeing may find this impossible to avert, at least partially, given its commitments on 737 MAX, 787-9 and KC-46, Airbus has already acted by opting against developing a new-design replacement for the A320, instead going for minimum change on its next narrowbody aircraft. But with the experience of long delays on the A380 program in mind, Airbus has introduced much tighter monitoring it hopes will make a repetition for the same reasons all but impossible.