Airbus orders reach $16.9bn, A350 wing production slowdown explained

Posted on 12 Jul 2012

Airbus wins $16.9bn (£11bn) worth of sales and commitments at Farnborough Air Show, comprising of 115 aircraft in three product families, and seeks to reassure industry that delays to the A350 programme means it is ‘in full control of production’.

Airbus confirmed an order book for 115 aircraft worth nearly $17bn during the Farnborough Air Show today, which includes a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for 61 aircraft worth $5.8bn (£3.8bn) and firm orders for 54 planes worth $11.1bn (£7.2bn).

The confirmation came straight after Synergy Aerospace placed orders for six A330-200s plus three A330 Freighters, and aircraft lessor Avolon became the 29th customer for the A320neo with an order for four of the popular airframe. The Avolon order brings the total number of A320neos to 1,454 aircraft in service and on order.

There were no orders for the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the A380, at the Show to date. Orders for the A380 this year stand at four, while Airbus sales chief, COO John Leahy told the press emphatically that “the goal remains the same” with regards to the company’s sales target of 30 A380s for 2012.

There are 1454 A320neo aircraft in service and on order

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier told the media the order book featured a “significant endorsement from customers of our strategy to continuously innovate and improve our products.”

The comment reflected changes to some existing orders that showed customers wanted to upgrade aircraft to newer variants.

On Tuesday Cathay Pacific ordered 10 of the heavier A330-1000 platforms and said it intended to upgrade 16 of its current A330-900 orders to the 1000 specification. The main difference is the larger fuel capacity extends the 1000 variant’s range by a further 400nm.

The A320neo variant, the A320ceo or ‘current engine option’, has proved popular this year with 57 commitments for this family at the Air Show, which included a MoU from China Aircraft Leasing Company for 36 A320ceo single-aisle aircraft – which can be fitted with the fuel-saving Sharklet large wingtips.

Airbus’s full complement for Farnborough 2012 included orders and commitments for:  86 A320neo and ceos; 19 A330; 10 A350-1000 and 16 upgrades from the A330-900 to the 1000 variant.

Broughton focuses on process not speed

Asked about delays to Airbus’s A350 programme, which is in part due to technical issues with bonding the composite wings made in Broughton in North Wales to the aircraft fuselage, Mr Bregier said the company had made ‘real progress’ recently with automating the wing manufacture. He said keeping A350 production on track had been “challenging”, but that safety must come first.

The assembly for these all-composite wings is being developed as a fully automated process, while the wings for the first batch of aircraft will be bonded using semi-manual bolting in Toulouse.

Having visited the Broughton factory last week, he said he was confident the correct diligence was being applied to the manufacturing process. “The panels are ‘glued’ together very fast and the tolerances at the fuselage joins are very good,” he said. “We continue to work on these production issues. We have no intention to repeat the delays we experienced [with the A380] but we have to combine speed of delivery with safety.”

Referencing the perceived fall-out with suppliers during the publicity of delays to the A380 programme, Mr Bregier said. “The biggest lesson is learning how to pass from one step [in the process] to the next, more quickly and together with our suppliers. We cannot blame suppliers, we are past that and are now more unified. This came from very useful information from our [2012] supplier survey.”

Bregier said he expected the first A350 wings to be delivered from Broughton to Toulouse, via Germany for stress testing, by October, revised from a September target earlier this year.

Of disappointing A380 sales, John Leahy recognised factors such as the delay to the programme caused by cracks in the wings reported earlier this year, but he said the flat economy was the biggest factor. “We’ve sold four this year so the sales challenge is large, but I think we are still on track to achieve 30,” he said.