Airbus plans an aggressive production ramp-up. The European airframer has disclosed more details on how it intends to grow its production capacity until 2025 on May 27. This follows on earlier remarks by CEO Guillaume Faury that Airbus is in discussions with suppliers to prepare for a ramp-up as the commercial aircraft market is expected to recover to pre-Covid levels between 2023 and 2025.
The latest figures announced today are an indication that Airbus is confident of not just a full recovery of the single-aisle market, but even of going beyond previously announced rates.
The A320neo-family is the cash generator of Airbus, thanks to the huge success of the A321neo and its sub-versions, the A321LR and the A321XLR. In its latest orders and deliveries update from April, the A320neo had a backlog of 2.630 undelivered aircraft out of 3.852 ordered since its launch. The smaller A319neo, which has only been delivered to customers in its ACJ319 guise, has a backlog of 70 from 73 on order.
The A321neo-family has the biggest backlog of 2.954 out of 3.473 ordered so far. Deliveries could have been higher before 2020, had production issues in Hamburg not caused huge delays, as had various quality and production problems with the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan and the CFM LEAP-1A.
In early 2020, Airbus was close to producing 63 A320neo-family aircraft per month in Hamburg, Toulouse, Mobile, and Tianjin, before cutting back to 40 per month as the effects of the pandemic set in. Faury confirmed last April that the rate will go to 43 in Q3 and to 45 in Q4 of this year, but Airbus now says it wants to take additional steps over 2022 and grow the number to 64 in Q2 of 2023. So three years after the pandemic set in, the A320-family rate will be back to its early 2020 levels.
But it doesn’t stop here. As soon as Q1 2024, the rate could go up further to 70 per month. And if demand really returns and especially the A321neo captures additional sales, rate 75 in 2025 is not to be ruled out. These rates beyond 2023 are to be confirmed, but Airbus is sounding out suppliers if they are willing to join them on this road. The production capacity is there: as recently reported on Airinsight, Airbus will transform the former A380 final assembly hall in Toulouse for the A320/A321neo to have it ready by the end of 2022 while one of the current assembly lines in Toulouse will get an update. Hamburg has received a fourth, highly automated FAL a couple of years ago and will likely bring updates to other lines as well. Mobile and Tianjin also have spare capacity left.
The A321XLR will be built exclusively in Hamburg, with the assembly of the first prototype being in its early stages. The first Rear Center Tank (RCT), which is instrumental in giving the XLR its 7.400 nm range, was recently delivered to the assembly site and assembled with the center fuselage.
The Rear Center Tank of the first A321XLR in Hamburg: the tank holds up to 13.100 liters. (Airbus)
That Airbus plans an aggressive ramp-up is also reflected in the A220. It has a backlog of forty -100s out of ninety that have been ordered since the program started as the Bombardier CS100. The bigger and more successful A220-300 has a backlog of 454 undelivered aircraft out of 559 ordered so far.
The type is produced at both the Montreal Mirabel and Mobile plant, the latter since August 2019. Last year, both factories built a combined four A220s per month, but this has gone up to five this year and around six in early 2022.
But a significant ramp-up to fourteen by 2025 is being looked at right now. These will be split between the Canadian and US plants, although Mirabel alone has the capability to do fourteen aircraft per month.
On the wide bodies, Airbus is more cautious. It has repeatedly said that long-haul travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024/2025 and this is reflected in the capacity outlook. The A350 will go back to six per month by the autumn of 2022. That’s the same rate that was announced in April 2020, when Airbus adjusted capacity from ten per month, but before it reduced it again in July that year to the current level of five per month.
The A350-900 is about halfway through its order book of 745 sales, with 377 still undelivered. The larger A350-1000 has a backlog of 114 out of 168 orders.
Unchanged at a rate of two per month will be the A330neo. By the end of April, the backlog of the A330-900 was 260 out of 316 sales and that of the smaller -800 of eleven undelivered aircraft out of just fifteen sold. While promoted as a very capable aircraft that sits nicely at the upper-end of the middle of the market, the A330neo has been suffering from an in-family rival that forms the lower end of this segment: the A321neo.
Airbus is not alone in looking at an aggressive ramp-up of its production. Reportedly, Boeing is looking at a steep climb for the MAX. The type is currently produced at low numbers as Boeing has to sort out all kinds of issues with the type, but for 2022 it wants to return to a rate of 31. Reuters recently reported that around the mid-2020s, Boeing wants to be at rate seventy. This perfectly reflects the thinking of Airbus around the A320neo-family.
The 787 and 777 are expected to remain at current reduced levels for some time.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.