As negotiations on the extension of its A320 final assembly line in Tianjin continue, Airbus has not ruled out ramping up the production rate, or even assembling the larger A321 at its China facility.
In an interview with journalists at its Beijing office, Airbus China president Eric Chen says the current output at its Tianjin facility, which the company refers to as FALC (final assembly line, China), accounts for less than half of the deliveries of single-aisle aircraft to the Chinese market annually.
"We will continue the project with the production of the Neo out of Tianjin with quality and on time. If demand is even higher, why not increase the production rate beyond four [per month]?" he says.
FALC now assembles four A320 family aircraft monthly, or about 48 annually. This is done with a single-shift at every station except Station 40 and the paint shop. Station 40 is involved in attaching the wings to fuselage.
“We’re looking at working off our backlog for single-aisle which is around 4,000 aircraft. So could we do more? Yes. How many? We’ll see,” says Andreas Ockel, general manager of Airbus (Tianjin) Final Assembly Company.
Chen also adds that "it makes sense" to assemble the A321 in Tianjin, and that the possibility has not been ruled out. The Tianjin line now assembles only the A319 and A320.
“For a FALC with a monthly production of four aircraft, it is probably better to produce two aircraft types than three because of the economics, that’s why we put in the A319 and A320. Now the situation is changing and the demand for A321 is getting stronger. This is different compared with the situation when we decided to set up the line in Tianjin,” he explains.
Asked whether the airframer would consider dropping the A319 and instead put the A321 on the assembly line, Chen says: "Why not? But the decision has not been made yet. It is still being evaluated and it has to be a bilateral decision."
Ockel would not go into the details, but said that no major changes would have to be made to accommodate the assembly of the A321 in Tianjin. It is likely that the Station 40 point in the line would have to be modified - a process which would take several weeks - to accommodate the tooling to deal with the A321's wings. The line has also been reinforced some months back, to allow for the fitting of sharklets on the aircraft.
The FALC is a joint venture between Airbus and a Chinese consortium comprising Tianjin Free Trade Zone and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC). Airbus holds a 51% stake while the Chinese hold the remaining 49%. Since starting operations in 2008, it has delivered 142 aircraft.
Last August, Airbus signed a framework agreement with its partner to continue the assembly of A320s in Tianjin beyond the previously agreed 2016. Details for the firm contract are, however, still being worked out.
"The final agreement will be signed and it will not be in the distant future. Discussions are ongoing actively and I do not see major obstacles," says Chen.