Airbus will pursue plans to increase the production rate of its new Chinese A320 assembly line, but the target of four aircraft a month could be revised if demand from the country's airlines softens.
"We're still pursuing the plan to ramp up output at Tianjin to four aircraft a month, but that's based on the expectation that we'd load an equal amount of aircraft into the European final assembly lines," says Airbus executive vice-president programmes Tom Williams.
Airbus, which late last year shelved plans to expand single-aisle output beyond 36 a month, is not ruling out cutting production rates if the global economic crisis bites hard and Williams says that the assembly lines in Europe and China would "share the pain".
The Tianjin plant, which can produce the A319 or the A320, began assembly of its first aircraft (A320 MSN 3591) last August and delivery is scheduled by mid-2009, to China's Sichuan Airlines. Output is due to gradually rise to the target of four aircraft a month by 2011, but Williams warns that the ramp-up plan "is very much dependent on the volume of aircraft we're going to be selling in China because we want to be able to match the output of the Tainjin line with the output in Europe for Chinese consumption".
The airframer has a contingency plan ready should output cuts be implemented, says Williams. "What I say to my guys is: 'We hope for the best but prepare for the worst'."
Williams says Airbus has a "stratification of the build plan so we understand what we would have to do at each step if we had to come down [in output]".
He says this encompasses examining flexibility in each of Airbus's manufacturing areas, starting with overtime and shift-working, then subcontracting work that Airbus could bring back in.
Although Airbus does not rule out production cutbacks this year, its chief operating officer customers John Leahy dismisses pressure from leasing customers, like International Lease Finance, to cut single-aisle output as a ploy to keep its own supply strong but reduce that of others: "When [ILFC boss] Steve Udvar-Hazy tells me I should cut production, I say 'fine, how many aircraft do you want to defer?' - and he says 'none'."