Airbus closes in on decision on proposal for local assembly of narrowbody airliners at rate of four a month
Assembly of the first Chinese-built Airbus A320 family aircraft could begin before the end of next year, should Airbus decide to go ahead with the proposed joint venture.
Airbus is examining whether to create a Chinese final assembly line as a result of the 150-aircraft A320 family order signed last month. “It makes sense to open this market with further industrial co-operation in China and the assembly line is a logical further step,” says Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert. “It will be controlled by us, but will be a joint venture.”
Airbus executive vice-president strategy and co-operation Olivier Andries says the study should be complete by July: “The first sections could arrive in China by the end of next year, and deliveries would begin in 2008 and would have a monthly rate of four aircraft.” Andries says the Chinese line would partly meet the country’s demand: “Four aircraft a month is not enough to satisfy China’s needs for Airbus aircraft, so we would also supply aircraft from the Hamburg and Toulouse lines,” he says.
As part of the study, Airbus is evaluating whether this would be over and above the 32 aircraft a month that A320 family output is being ramped up to next year across the two existing assembly lines. According to Andries, it has to be established whether there is demand for 36 aircraft a month, and whether suppliers and subassembly plants can cope with such a rate. “Probably [Airbus chief operating officer customers] John Leahy would say that there is enough demand to support us pushing output levels further… it does not mean that the supply chain can follow,” he says.
As part of the 150-aircraft deal, China has expanded its production co-operation, which will see it supplying A320 family wing boxes at a rate of four sets a month to the UK wing assembly line. Andries acknowledges that, while the increasing Chinese contribution would help the supply chain issue, it is only one of many factors to be considered within the production ramp-up effort.
Four locations in China are being evaluated for the assembly line, says Andries, who adds the plant would “most probably” be built on a green field site. “Another issue we are looking at is the capital expenditure required and whether the additional line can be sustained over time,” he says.
The Chinese would be specifically tasked with building A319s and A320s “as this is the bulk of the China market”, says Andries. He adds that the study is looking into the various methods that could employed to transport sub-assemblies from the European plants to China. Options include using the existing “air-bridge” method with A300-600 Beluga aircraft and other forms of air or sea transport.
MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / PARIS