Slow-selling commercial jets are usually not a secret. After all, one can glance at order and/or delivery numbers for certain types and reach a conclusion relatively quickly. However, this may not always tell the whole story as some customers still listed in manufacturers' orderbooks have no intention or ability of taking delivery of a type (e.g. Kingfisher A380s) or the number of customers actually taking delivery of aircraft is low.
To assist in gauging the health of a production line, it helps to look at serial numbers and/or line numbers to see if any customers are getting an unusually large number of continuous blocks of aircraft. An analysis using Aviation Week Intelligence Network's Fleet database reveals several instances of this happening over the years. Some happen for good reason and are planned to an extent, while others suggest low demand despite a seemingly "healthy" orderbook.
Below are the top nine instances of this event along with three current situations to watch. Only situations where the customer took uninterrupted delivery of these blocks of aircraft with the manufacturer not delivering aircraft to other customers are included.
CRJ900 (2003-2005) - 34 aircraft
Mesa Airlines took delivery of CRJ900 serial nos. 15002-15035 between 2003 and 2005, a block of 34 aircraft. At the time of first delivery, Mesa Airlines was the only customer of the type. Additional orders did not appear until mid-2004 when Air Nostrum and Air Canada (in the form of the nearly-identical CRJ705) placed orders for the type. The CRJ900 continues to soldier on today, its backlog boosted by an order for 40 aircraft by Delta Air Lines in December 2012.
A300 (2000-2003) - 31 aircraft
UPS took delivery of 31 A300s in a row in the 2000-2003 timeframe when they took delivery of serial nos. 805-835. Sales of the A300 had nearly dried up by 2000 and UPS was the only customer at the time. A few more orders were placed by Japan Air System, Air Hong Kong, Galaxy Airlines, and FedEx before the last A300 was finally delivered, to FedEx, in 2007.
DC10 (1983-1985) - 27 aircraft
The USAF took delivery of 27 KC-10s between 1983 and 1985, composed of line nos. 382-408. DC-10 sales in the early 1980s were slow and sales of KC-10s to the USAF, along with DC-10-30F sales to FedEx, made the bulk of the orders that kept the line going until arrival of the MD-11.
MD-80 (1999) - 24 aircraft
TWA took the last 24 MD-80s off the production line, which included line nos. 2264-2287, before the line was shut down by Boeing in 1999.
717 (2002-2003) - 17 aircraft
AirTran Airways took delivery of 717s with line nos. 5099-5115. Unfortunately, times were never really good for the poor 717.
727 (1983-1984) - 15 aircraft
Federal Express took delivery of the last 15 727s, line nos. 1818-1832, from Boeing before the line was closed in 1984.
717 (2003-2004) - 14 aircraft
Midwest Airlines took delivery of 717 line nos. 5116-5129 in 2003-2004, immediately after AirTran took delivery of its block of 17 aircraft as noted above.
707 (1986-1987) - 11 aircraft
The Royal Saudi Air Force took delivery of 11 707s in a row with line nos. 972-982 in the 1986-1987 timeframe. Military examples of the 707 were the only variants being produced at the time and the line was slowly being wound down with the last delivery taking place in 1994.
CRJ705 (2005) - 11 aircraft
Air Canada/Jazz Air took delivery of 11 CRJ705s (CRJ900s with modified seating) in 2005 with serial nos. 15043-15053. These deliveries came on the heels of Mesa Airlines' block of 34 CRJ900s as noted above.
Three types to watch:
CRJ1000 (2012-present) - 9 aircraft and continuing
Garuda has taken delivery of nine CRJ1000s in a row, both direct from Bombardier and through lessor Nordic Aviation Capital, since October 2012. While Brit Air and Air Nostrum have a combined 26 CRJ1000s left on order, neither one has taken delivery of any since March 2012.
FedEx and the USAF are once again joining forces, if only coincidentally, in keeping a production line alive. By late 2014, it appears that FedEx and the USAF will be the only remaining customers for the 767 should no other orders materialize. Repeating the similar DC-10 scenario of the 1980s, it's possible we'll see FedEx take delivery of a large number of 767s in a row before the USAF receives its first one in 2017.
With the A380's backlog currently at 158 and with Emirates holding 35% of it, it is likely that Emirates will be taking delivery of a large block of A380s as other customers' outstanding orders are completed. But this is speculative, of course, as new orders could obviously change things. In addition, when the A340 line wound down in 2010 due to dwindling demand, no carrier had ever taken delivery of a large block of the type (five aircraft or more).
While this analysis is just one piece of the puzzle, it provides an interesting look into unusual output of certain aircraft types.
A big THANKS goes to Nigel Howarth for taking the time to do the data digging for this blog.