Airbus will decide whether to raise production rates for the A350-1000 later this year, according to Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy. “I would like to see more -1000s built,” Leahy said on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Cape Town.
Leahy pointed out that he has seen a strong rise in demand for the largest member of the A350 family recently and that he is pushing hard internally for Airbus to increase production rates.
At the same time, Leahy insisted that Airbus will build the smaller -800, for which demand has been very low. “There will always be an -800”, but his priority has clearly shifted to the -1000 as airlines are now tending to buy bigger aircraft. Leahy discarded the possibility of Airbus eventually offering an even larger version of the A350 because a double stretch of the -900 would risk losing a lot of its capabilities. He pointed out the failure of the Boeing 767-400 as one example where a double stretch has not worked.
Having handed over MSN001 to flight testing, Airbus is now expected to fly the aircraft for the first time within the next few weeks. Many have speculated that Airbus might try to fly over the Paris air show, which opens on June 17.
Leahy sees no need to change the order target upwards right now. EADS CEO Tom Enders had raised the target from 600 to “comfortably over 800.” Airbus is currently at 514 firm orders for the year, but has signed several preliminary agreements for significant numbers of aircraft.
Leahy is bullish about future demand increases for the A320NEO family. “I would like to see the ramp up continue,” he said. Airbus is currently at 42 aircraft per month for the A320 family and plans to stay at that rate until the conversion to the NEO is completed, likely in 2017. Beyond that date, Leahy sees a need for further increases. Those would have to be decided several years ahead of time, “but not in 2013.”
Airbus’ chief salesman claimed he is not too concerned about the low pace of A380 orders. According to Leahy, there are two open delivery slots in 2015 left to fill and “demand will pick up.” He pointed out that sales campaigns for A380s take much longer to close than for smaller aircraft because airlines are making more detailed studies. Leahy is sticking to his target to sell 25 of the type this year, although Airbus has sold none so far.