There are jitters on the Chinese stock market and worries about many emerging economies, but John Leahy has a view on the orders bubble: there simply isn’t one. At the Airbus annual press conference in Paris on 12 January, the airframer’s top salesman again dismissed suggestions that the industry is ramping up output just when unprecedented demand is about to topple over the precipice.

Assuming the appetite for air travel slackens, Leahy contends, Toulouse is sitting on a backlog of almost 6,800 and simply needs to go on taking one order for every aircraft it builds to maintain its production plans into the next decade – in 2015 that ratio was 1.6.

However, even if the ever-upbeat sales supremo is right about the strength of the marketplace, Airbus – and its rival Boeing – could yet come unstuck at the other end of the equation. To meet their ambitious ramp-up plans, both airframers depend not only on a growing world economy, but on global supply chains delivering highly-engineered components and sub-systems to increasingly just-in-time schedules.

Airbus’s experience with the A350 last year proves just how vulnerable the airframers are to a weak link in that chain. The new widebody was certificated almost exactly when Toulouse promised it would be – a remarkable achievement considering the shambles of the A380 programme less than a decade earlier. But the first year of production proved trickier. Leahy’s boss Fabrice Brégier was unusually candid in naming and shaming interiors provider Zodiac at the press ­conference, pinning the blame on the French company for Airbus falling one short of its target of 15 A350 deliveries last year. He accused Zodiac management of being “in denial” about the supply problems and said Airbus had deselected the company from its A330neo programme.

Harsh words indeed, and doubtless enough to spark a culture change at Airbus’s hapless supplier. And, while missing an annual delivery target by one aircraft hardly amounts to a crisis, Brégier promised a new “watchtower” approach to any impending slippages. Suppliers the world over – particularly on the A320neo and Boeing 737 Max, which face the steepest ramp-ups – may now well be looking at their processes ahead of what will an extremely challenging period.

Too much demand might be a nicer problem than too little. But for the airframers and their supply chains, making good their promises over the next five to 10 years could prove no less stressful.

Source: Flight International