Aside from the excitement of the 737 Max 10 launch, the recent Paris air show was notable for the sense that the industry is already growing weary from aggressive programme ramp-ups.
Airbus is a case in point. It is now into its second full year of A320neo production, but the teething troubles associated with the introduction of a new model are persisting.
The Neo’s engines remain its weak spot – as opposed to the niggly interior on the A350 – with Pratt & Whitney the main culprit.
However, even as it seeks to resolve the powerplant problems, Airbus is attempting to take A320 output to levels never before seen.
There is no question that this will put unprecedented pressure on its supply chain – and on the airframer itself – as it seeks to manage output across four globally dispersed final assembly lines.
To some extent, the combination of those two pressures – a lack of powerplants and rising rates – is manifesting itself in the number of “gliders”: Neos without engines, being built and then parked.
Airbus expects that around 30 of these jets will be assembled this year as it waits for P&W to catch up.
The images of engineless aircraft, while not on the same scale, bring to mind the dark days of the Boeing 787, where acres of its Everett facility were given over to completed Dreamliners awaiting rework.
That fact is probably not lost on either airframer, particularly as Boeing itself is accelerating narrowbody production while also introducing the Max variants.
Apart from a brief blip during the flight test phase, there has been little sign of the CFM International Leap engine series showing the maturity issues of the rival PW1100G.
Whether that is because the Leap is a relatively low-risk development, or thanks to its manufacturer’s careful planning, it is too early to tell.
However, as output of the Max and Neo gather pace this year – and the next and the year after, there will be programme chiefs in both Seattle and Toulouse sweating anxiously that the untroubled course is maintained.
Indeed, there has been speculation that Airbus has begun quietly rebuilding its backlog for the current-generation A320 to allow it to maintain the rate rise while taking pressure off the Neo and its suppliers.
Perhaps, but what is clear is that sales success does not mean you can run before you can walk.
Source: Flight International