Airbus is looking at an increase in narrowbody production even before the transition from the current version of the Airbus A320 family to the A320neo, which is scheduled to be completed by 2018.
“There is an upside potential [to the production rate] and we are studying it,” says Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier. He hints that a decision is due to take place within the next few months.
Airbus has so far planned to transition from the A320ceo (current engine option) to the neo (new engine option) with a rate of 42 per month. The manufacturer did not go higher than that mainly because engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney and CFM International are already forced to make the transition from one product to another at very high production rates, an effort that has never been tried before. But now that Airbus is comfortable it has sold the remaining A320ceo production at 42 a month, it is aiming at more.
“I’m pushing for an increase in production,” says Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy. He believes that a rate of 50 neos would be “easily” doable. “There is demand out there for the product.”
The decision to raise production could come as early as the end of February when Airbus parent Airbus Group announces its financial results for 2013.
Airbus’ drive for a further production increase comes after a record year in terms of new orders and production. Airbus reached 1,619 gross orders, 11 more than in the previous record year of 2011 and 88 more than Boeing received in 2013. Net orders (1,503) were also above the previous high mark.
An unannounced customer placed an order for 100 narrowbodies in December and the identity of that customer is likely to be revealed later this year. Airbus dropped Kingfisher orders for five A350-800s and five A380s from the backlog given that the airline has been grounded for more than a year and there are no signs it could be resurrected to its former size any time soon. Also, 35 A320ceo orders have been converted to the neo – that is accounted for both as a cancellation and a new order.
While Airbus has been “intelligently overbooking” narrowbody production, it is now also looking to do the same widebodies. “We are looking at some algorithms to figure out what is possible,” says Leahy. But he concedes that overbooking is more difficult with long haul aircraft because of the long lead times and the high degree of customization.
Airbus delivered a total of 626 aircraft last year, compared to Boeing’s 648. Among them were 493 A320 family aircraft, 108 A330s and 25 A380s.