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Airbus Suppliers Discuss Ramp-Ups

Airbus would like to increase A320neo production rates, but can the supply chain handle it?

Airbus has made no secret of its desire to ramp up narrowbody production rates ahead of existing commitments.

In 2019 the European manufacturer will move to a rate of 60-63 A320s per month, and it is canvassing suppliers about the feasibility of pushing on from that total in subsequent years.

“There shouldn’t be any doubt on the commercial viability of a higher rate at 70 or 70-plus,” said Airbus CFO Harald Wilhelm on a Q1 earnings call, adding: “So it’s all about the industrial feasibility that has to be studied.”

Wilhelm thinks that A320 output above 70 per month is feasible for more than just a couple of years due to the strength of Airbus’s backlog and ongoing sales, but his optimism contrasts with a difficult opening quarter in which A320neo deliveries were held back by a lack of engines.

There are now more than 60 A320neo airframes on the tarmac in Toulouse without engines, although the arrival of a knife-edge seal fix from Pratt & Whitney should see that total decrease.

Pratt, the geared turbofan manufacturer, appears to have rectified its major problems, but appears nervous about further rate increases.

“We are committed to take that rate up over the next couple of years, but I think there's a question beyond that whether or not the sub-tier suppliers really have the capacity… is there enough capacity of the supply chain that you're not going to see big bottlenecks?” said Greg Hayes, CEO of United Technologies.

Hayes added that a shortage of workers at lower-tier suppliers could prove to be one of the main bottlenecks.

And he warned that any ramp up would have to occur as a “very slow measured increase” to avoid undue supply chain distress.

Wilhelm said he would like to see the rate push on from 63 in 2021 and reach 70 or more the following year.

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