Doubts emerge over A320 rate rise

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Reservations over the wisdom of increasing the Airbus A320 production rate have started to emerge at the airframer, although it still intends to raise the rate to 42 per month this year.

A320s are built at 40 per month and the airframer has been looking at options to increase this, potentially to 44 and beyond, given the scale of its backlog for the baseline and re-engined models.

Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy has been enthusiastic about a faster rate but admitted, during an event in Toulouse, that he "tends to doubt it now".

He says that the supply chain, rather than demand, remains the crucial concern.

Airbus executive vice-president for programmes Tom Williams points out that the broader financing situation must also be taken into consideration.

Williams acknowledges, however, that the order profile of the re-engined A320neo indicates that - in the 2017-18 timeframe - even a proposed monthly rate of 44 is not enough.

But stepping up the rate requires a "responsiveness that's never been required in this industry before", and that the airframer is aware of "pinch points" in second- and third-tier suppliers. Williams says, however: "Our message is that [rate] 50 is not a pipe dream."

Meanwhile, some A320neo production could be shifted to the airframer's Chinese facility in Tianjin to help ease the pressure on the Toulouse line.

Tianjin recently hit its target of producing three aircraft per month and to the same quality as those manufactured in Toulouse.

Leahy says production of the A320neo could also take place in Tianjin. "There's certainly a possibility there. In fact, a team is in Tianjin discussing it now, looking into that as we speak," he says.

Although so far all the aircraft produced at Tianjin have been for the Chinese domestic market, Leahy is considering offering them for export too, following enquiries from customers including AirAsia.