Forecasts 2007: Airbus has a lot of issues to sort out as it regroups for its sales battle with rival giant Boeing

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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If Airbus has been drawing up a "to-do list" for 2007, it will look a lot like the one it had a year ago: "Sort out the A380's wiring problems and begin customer deliveries seek to close the gap to the Boeing 787 with orders for the A350 launch an A330 freighter model and (possibly) how to rejuvenate the A340-600."

The reality is that after a bruising 2006, Airbus has it all to do in 2007. It cannot allow its A350 XWB to lose any more ground to Boeing in the marketplace and, just as importantly, must stick to its rescheduled delivery plan for the A380 and deliver the first example to Singapore Airlines in October.

With Airbus having been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons last year, Boeing has been quietly going about its business preparing to begin building the 787. And now it is the US airframer's moment of truth, as final assembly of the 787 begins in Everett ahead of a mid-year roll-out and first flight by August.

 
© Boeing
Boeing's 787 is set for first flight in 2007

With little to distract Boeing's commercial aircraft division in 2007 - it just has the service entry of the 737-900ER with LionAir to clear in the first quarter - it will be throwing all its weight behind ensuring that its new "plastic-fantastic" offspring sets off on a smooth 12-month flight-test programme.

As 2006 closed, Boeing was able to launch full development of the passenger version of the 747-8 thanks to a deal from Lufthansa. The stretched design has already been a strong performer in the cargo sector, and Boeing will be working hard to attract more orders from passenger airlines during 2007.

Despite record-breaking sales in 2005, Airbus and Boeing seem to have all but repeated the feat last year - we will not know the exact numbers until the two rivals declare their hands in the coming days. The reality is that sales for Airbus and Boeing in 2006 turned out far better than either were predicting 12 months ago, and "2007 is looking like it will be another good one", says Boeing vice-president marketing Randy Baseler. He points out that the strong performance was achieved in 2006 despite the fact that "many of the key US major and European flag carriers are not in the order cycle yet, and maybe 2007 will be the year when we see them back".

For sure Airbus will be working hard to boost its share of the widebody sector and will be aggressively trying to claw back lost ground, which should see a healthy tally of sales for the A350 - assuming the recent uncertainty over the programme has been dispelled.

Future narrowbody

Whether the narrowbody boom can be sustained through 2007 given the fact that production is sold out for several years, is unclear, but it will be a brave observer who predicts it's all going to come to a sudden halt.

During the year we may see some more glimpses of what shape the follow-on narrowbody programmes from Airbus and Boeing will take, but a firm programme launch would be a surprise.

The two airframers' combined output broke the 800-unit threshold for only the fourth time ever in 2006 as production spirals ever upwards to cater for the recovery from the post-9/11 downturn. Shipments in 2007 will be above 900, with Airbus expected to still be marginally ahead, but it is unclear whether the two companies will beat the industry's all-time-high of 914 in 1999.

In the regional sector, expect some decisions from Canada on the way forward for Bombardier. This time last year it was evaluating whether to pursue its CSeries small mainline jet and, 12 months on, it finds itself in the same position. In between, however, Bombardier has shelved the CSeries and began to study lower-risk alternative developments, namely a stretched CRJ900 and Q400. However, the company has recently revived its CSeries studies and is now set to decide on one or all of these developments in the coming months.

The slump in demand for small regional jets has resulted in the closure of both 50-seat jet lines by Bombardier and Embraer. However, rocketing fuel prices have helped bring a swift turnaround in the turboprop market, enabling ATR and Bombardier to boost their output.

Production of the propeller-driven airliners is steadily rising and next year will be the highest since 2001, while jets will slump to the lowest since 1998. The result is that 2006 looks likely to be the low point in the regional output cycle, with combined shipments by the three players declining to about 250 aircraft - the lowest since the dawn of the regional jet. According to Flight International records, the previous lowest annual regional output total in the 16 years was in 1994, when deliveries fell to about 290, of which more than 200 were turboprops.

In the CIS, all eyes will be on the Sukhoi Superjet 100 - the most ambitious airliner project undertaken by Russia since the fall of communism. With Sukhoi central to the reorganisation of Russian industry under the United Aircraft (OAK) umbrella, and a large percentage of the SSJ being produced by Western suppliers, the 75-100-seat jet has the backing to be the most successful Russian airliner for a generation. During 2007, Sukhoi is due to roll out and fly the prototype - a feat that, if achieved on schedule, will provide a further boost to its chances of being accepted as a genuine alternative to the Western-built regional jets in the world market.