Airbus aims for new production record in 2012

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Airbus is aiming for a new ­production record in 2012, intending to turn out 570 aircraft following a year in which its combined output with rival ­Boeing topped four figures for the first time.

It will crank up the A320 ­production line, reaching 42 per month by the end of the year, while monthly A330 rates will reach 9.5. Those for the A380 will head "towards" three, said ­Airbus chief Tom Enders.

Airbus handed over 57 aircraft in December, nudging its overall 2011 deliveries to 534 - exceeding the guidance given by parent company EADS at the beginning of the year, and taking combined deliveries with Boeing to 1,011.

jet airliner orders, deliveries and backlog

 

But with the initial rush for early A320neo slots subsiding, the airframer is not expecting a repeat of last year's frenzy for the type. In 2011 the company received 1,356 firm orders for the re-engined airframe before Airbus opted to relegate the status of a 130-jet deal from American Airlines, after its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

While Airbus nevertheless basked in a 64% market share of net orders - a total of 1,419 against Boeing's 805 - chief operating officer for customers John Leahy admitted the airframer was unlikely to repeat the performance this year. "It may even go below 50% in 2012," he said, as Airbus estimated 2012's order ­intake at 600-650 aircraft.

Although EADS chief Louis Gallois claimed the A320neo "forced" Boeing to adopt its 737 Max strategy - and even suggested the US airframer's redesign effort "doesn't seem an easy task" - Leahy acknowledged the revised 737 would probably generate a surge of interest similar to that of the A320neo. He said this was particularly likely given the scarcity of near-term A320neo slots.

While there was no doubt that Airbus would easily retain the order crown - beating Boeing for the eighth year in the past decade - the net revenue split between the two was much closer than the order figures indicated, with Airbus taking 54%. This highlighted the relatively poor performance by Airbus in the lucrative widebody sector last year - a year in which Boeing came back strongly with a knockout performance from its 777 family.

LUCKY NUMBER 777

The 777 demonstrated its ­continuing appeal by notching up more than 200 orders, doubtless underpinning Boeing's confidence in the potential of a modernised version.

The 787 managed to creep into positive figures for 2011 after the airframer logged orders for 45 in the last six weeks of the year, including 10 from Etihad Airways and 25 from Air France-KLM.

In contrast, Airbus's new A350 programme secured orders for only 10 aircraft in 2011, while cancellation of 41 left the type in negative net figures for the year.

The cancellations included six A350-1000s from Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways - the first carrier to cut its backlog for the type since the twinjet aircraft was redesigned last year.

Airbus had a backlog of 75 A350-1000s, but its December books revealed Etihad's backlog of 25 had been cut to 19.

While Etihad has not ­commented on the A350-1000 redesign, a source close to the carrier said it was not content with the changes made to the twinjet, echoing feelings expressed by Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Tom Enders indicated there might be "short-term" issues regarding discussions with existing customers for the A350-1000, but reiterated Airbus's confidence in the programme.

Another Middle Eastern A350 customer, VIP operator MAZ Aviation, also axed its 2008 order for six A350s, comprising five -900s and a single -800. The changes have reduced the A350 backlog to 555 aircraft, comprising 118 -800s, 368 -900s and 69 -1000s.

However, John Leahy said he was in discussions with three major airlines for the A350-1000, adding that the main problem was "getting them early delivery positions", following the decision last year to defer the -1000's entry into service until 2017.

Airbus chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier said progress on the first family member, the A350-900, was reaching "full speed". Final assembly of the static airframe will begin in March, he added, while that for the first flying example would start "probably in June".

Enders stressed the airframer remains cautious over A350 development, admitting that postponement of its entry to the final assembly line had been decided after the programme "ran into some serious problems" with key elements.

Without caution, and assurance of maturity, he said "you're setting yourself up for disaster", recalling the chaotic logjam during early A380 production. "We are very determined not to speed up when it isn't necessary," he added.

Airbus managed to deliver 26 A380s last year - an effort hampered by knock-on effects from Rolls-Royce engine modifications and production at sites affected by the Japanese tsunami. These resulted in the airframer "robbing" powerplants, said Gallois - and although the type took only 19 net orders, its sales still far exceeded those of the Boeing 747-8.