Airbus and Boeing plot airliner output hikes

Washington DC
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Despite the clamour from the market for cuts in single-aisle output, Airbus and Boeing are plotting tit-for-tat production rate increases as they battle for the status of being the world's biggest airliner producer.

The Airbus A320 family rate, running at 34 a month, will rise to 36 a month at the end of the year, as the airframer prepares for the market recovery. The cut to current rate of 34 was announced a year ago when output was rising through 36 aircraft and heading to 40.

"Now it is definitely time to think ahead," says Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice-president, programmes.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Jim Albaugh, whose stated intention is to retake top spot in output from Airbus next year, suggests that the US airframer is set to mirror the Airbus move, with a decision planned "sometime this summer" about increasing the 737 rate.

Speaking at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Defense Conference in New York, Albaugh said: "We think we're coming back into a positive cycle in the marketplace."

Boeing's 737 delivery slots are "sold out" in 2011 and production is "over committed" in 2012, based on the current 31.5 aircraft a month output, he adds.

Airbus does not intend to make any changes on the widebody front, with A330/A340 family output to remain at eight a month.

However, Albaugh says that Boeing will in April decide on 777 production, with a possible increase beginning in 2011. The 777 rate is now decreasing from seven a month and is due to reach five in June.

Additionally, Albaugh says that 787 production, now at two aircraft a month, will rise to 2.5 a month in August as the airframer continues to ramp toward 10 aircraft a month in 2013.

For 2010, Airbus aims to keep delivery levels around the same as last year, when it shipped 498 aircraft, including 402 A320-family jets. Boeing expects between 460 and 465 deliveries in 2010, down from 481 last year.

This would mean that Boeing would be second in output terms to Airbus for the eighth consecutive year, but Albaugh says his intention is to reverse this in 2011. This would restore Boeing's status as the world's largest airliner producer for the first time since 2002.