Airbus slows A380 final assembly ramp-up

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Airbus has slowed its final assembly ramp-up for the A380 as it assesses customer demand for deliveries of the ultra-large airliner in the global downturn.

Earlier this month, Airbus cut planned A380 deliveries in 2009 from 18 to 14 aircraft after recent deferrals by Qantas and other early customers. It aims to ship "more than 20" A380s next year.

Although the A380 production ramp-up is continuing, the pace is slowing," says Airbus executive vice-president programmes, Tom Williams. "We were going from a rate of two a month [at the final assembly stage]to three by year-end; instead, we'll now go to 2.5." He says that despite the well-documented problems with the transition from "Wave 1" to "Wave 2" production standard, Airbus was likelyto have achieved the 18 deliveries originally scheduled this year because few were the more challenging "head-of-version" aircraft with different cabin configurations for new clients. "We've got through Wave 1 and have now got the Wave 2 issues under control," he adds.

 © Airbus

The only new customer in 2009 will be Air France at the end of the year, but the first for Lufthansa will follow early in 2010.

Williams says there are eight A380s undergoing cabin furnishing in Hamburg, and 11 in final assembly in Toulouse.

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders does not expect A380 production to need further downward adjustment, but says the impact of the slowdown on premium air travel is hurting the double decker. "The A380 is the flagship so has a lot of luxury on board, and that's where the trouble is right now."

Enders says current financing issues have also affected the A380 because it is such a high-value aircraft. "These are the reasons that have driven customers to make the [delivery] changes."

Meanwhile Williams says Airbus is "trying to settle" output of the A330/A340 at around 8.5 a month, "which is a sensible number, although we don't have the cushion of over-booking of the single-aisle programme". The backlog is driven primarily by the A330 and the half-an-aircraft rate above eight a month roughly represents the A340 output, he adds.

Assembly of the A330-200F will begin in June, with a first flight scheduled in the fourth quarter, says Williams. "The freighter market is down significantly, which meant that while we had planned to go to two freighters a month, we'll now probably stay at one a month through the 2010-2011 period."