May 25, 2012
Airbus is unlikely to increase narrowbody production rates any time soon due to concern over supply chain capabilities.
The aircraft maker currently builds 40 narrowbodies a month and is aiming for a monthly production rate of 42 in October. Last year, the company considered building the rate to 44 aircraft a month, but decided against the move, and now Airbus Chief Operating Officer for Customers John Leahy says he “tends to doubt” that increase will ever happen.
Several factors influence Leahy’s judgment, including near-term supply chain concerns that are already affecting the increase in production to 40 A320 family aircraft a month.
But long-term rates are likely to go up. Demand for the re-engined NEO has been so strong that building even 44 aircraft in 2017 or 2018 “is not enough,” says Tom Williams, Airbus executive VP-programs. Because of this, Airbus is already instructing suppliers to prepare for increased production.
Airbus has recorded more orders for its NEO than Boeing has for its 737 MAX, and though Leahy acknowledges that Boeing is likely to book more MAX orders this year than Airbus will for the NEO, he expects the European manufacturer to own 60% of the market.
Leahy notes the A320 also does not appear to be affected by China’s ban on aircraft orders from Europe in response to the European Union’s emissions trading system, noting that widebody orders were the target and that negotiations are ongoing for more than 100 A320 family orders.
Meanwhile, development of the NEO continues, with first metal cut due in July, Williams says, and certification for the A320 winglet, or sharklet, expected by year-end. The first aircraft will be a CFM56-powered A320, with other models in the family to follow.
Two retrofit programs are being developed to ensure there are no production issues with the 2.4-meter-high wingtip devices, including a reinforced wing and wingbox installed on new-production models to allow for a “plug-and-play” swap of the wingfence with sharklets at Rib 27.
A more extensive retrofit is required for older aircraft to reinforce the wing, a program that is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2013, possibly using a customer aircraft. The winglet design will be the same, but the retrofit aircraft will not have the same weight savings now being phased in on new A320s, with several hundred kilograms added to each aircraft.