When former UK chancellor of the exchequer Reginald Maudling was turfed out of office by the Labour government's victory in the 1964 general election, he left a note to Jim Callaghan, his successor.

"Good luck, old cock," he wrote. "Sorry to leave it in such a mess."

Both French and German probably have a turn of phrase equivalent to this peculiarly British bit of understatement, and Airbus chief Tom Enders might be forgiven if he passed on similar sentiments to Guillaume Faury in either language.

Airbus is somewhat under siege and, in a twist on the regular narrative, much of the pressure is not coming from its traditional US nemesis but from its own partners and internal operations.

The brightest part of the airframer's latest outlook concerned the A350 programme, which has continued to demonstrate remarkably smooth progress, seemingly in defiance of the regular cautions expressed over the challenges involved in ramping up production.

Airbus's recent frustrations have instead been rooted in just about every programme except the A350, putting unwanted pressure on the airframer at a time when its senior management structure – stable for several years – is being overhauled and candidates are being scrutinised as much for their virtues as their skills.

While the A380 continues to languish in the aerospace equivalent of purgatory, the belated transition from the A330 to the re-engined A330neo has been aggravated by a dearth of Rolls-Royce powerplants.

The engine snags and shortages that saddled the A320neo programme are well documented, but the airframer has admitted to vexatious internal single-aisle production issues, notably on its A321neo – a hugely popular model and one which, like the A330neo, is crucial to its middle-market strategy.

Prior to the introduction of the A320neo, Airbus was typically delivering around 40% of its annual output during the fourth quarter. But over the subsequent three years, the stress on the final quarter has sharply increased, with the ratio rising to 49% in 2016 and 58% last year.

Airbus's original production target had left it facing the unenviable burden of delivering 62% of this year's total in the final three months. The newly consolidated A220 has been drafted into a face-saving role that maintains the delivery target of 800 aircraft.

All of this is set against a relatively weak Airbus sales performance – Boeing has taken two-and-a-half times more net orders – and the pressure of a planned single-aisle rate hike. Oh, and Brexit. Welcome to the hot seat, Guillaume. Bonne chance.

Source: Flight International