Airbus has confirmed its plan to build 300 aircraft next year, raising the uncomfortable prospect for Boeing that the European manufacturer will equal its civil aircraft production figures for the first time. The revelation comes amid Boeing claims that Airbus is keeping output artificially high in the downturn to gain market share.

Last week, Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard confirmed predictions that it will maintain this year's 300 aircraft production level in 2003. Around 160 aircraft were delivered in the first six months of this year. Airbus says it will build about 70 widebodies and 230narrowbodies next year.

Boeing, which delivered 222 airliners in the first half of this year, is on course to hand over 380 over the year. Its output levels next year will fall to about 275-300 aircraft.

Although Airbus boasts of beating Boeing in some of the recent annual order battles, the US manufacturer maintains that the true measure of success is the number of deliveries, as this is when full revenue is earned. Next year Airbus is set to achieve its long-held ambition to make 50% of deliveries in the market for aircraft with more than 100 seats and could deliver more aircraft than its US rival.

This achievement arrives earlier than expected as Boeing laid off 20,000 employees and slashed production after 11 September, while Airbus has kept redundancies and output cuts to a minimum.

The US manufacturer has accused Airbus of dumping aircraft to grab market share at the expense of profitability: "Boeing has cut production by 28% and Airbus by 8%," says Boeing. "We believe it is unhealthy for the entire airline industry for Airbus to produce more aircraft than the market demands."

Airbus's rise to the top of the production rankings will come after 29 years in the aircraft-building business, having delivered its first aircraft in 1974. The company's expanding product line and the demise of McDonnell Douglas has enabled it to increase its share from 10% in 1990 to 44% this year and an estimated 50% in 2003.

Boeing has awarded Denel Aviation of South Africa a contract to manufacture up to 400 components a month for Boeing 747s and 767s over nine years. Denel will take over capital equipment, including milling and turning machines, shot-peening machines and co-ordinate measuring machines, relocating them to its Kempton Park manufacturing facility in South Africa. Boeing will also assist Denel to obtain Boeing's quality accreditation. Production is expected to start towards the end of this year.

Source: Flight International