This is full of info on build rates:
VAirbus and Boeing may squabble over subsidies, composite usage and market strategy, but they agree about one thing: Demand has improved so much that delivery rates may need to be ramped up across their product lines. Click on Read More for the full story.
Both have been predicting that worldwide demand--except among legacy carriers in the U.S.--would return this year and increase into 2007, so the happy news isn't a surprise. The question now is what to do about it. Boeing has seen such strong demand for the 787--266 orders or commitments from 21 customers--that production in the first three years, 2008 to 2010, is committed.
"We're looking at a rate buildup," said Mike Bair, Boeing vice president and general manager of the 787, during last week's Paris air show. Current plans are to produce 95 aircraft in that period.
The 200-300-seat jet's development effort remains on schedule for first delivery in mid-2008. Another 27 airlines are talking about placing orders for about 420 additional orders, Bair said. His concern: balancing prospective loss of orders to the rival Airbus A350 because airlines can't take deliveries fast enough versus overcommiting a new production line.
Similarly, Airbus is trying to figure out how to push A380 production up to 50 aircraft a year by decade-end. It is finalizing the production slots now and soon plans to offer them to prospective customers, says Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy. Airbus is still recovering from production problems on the A380, but Leahy says that shouldn't affect its ability to provide the additional slots.
And it's not just new products. "There is really a good, positive sign for the industry as a whole," says Airbus President Noel Forgeard. In early 2006, production rates of single-aisles will be boosted to 30 aircraft per month and of A340s to eight aircraft per month, he adds.
In the meantime, demand for interim lift is strong enough to breathe more commercial life into the 767--the Boeing airplane the 787 is to replace. "I think it's going to go on for a number of years," Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally said.
While Mulally noted orders are pending for the 767 and the 747-400, he wasn't prepared to announce them. Keeping the 767 line healthy eases the strain on Boeing as it waits for a U.S. Air Force decision about buying 767s as military tanker/transports.
Boeing's board is also expecting, meanwhile, to receive a recommendation to launch a stretched version of the 747, called the 747 Advanced, within a few months.
"It could be as early as the end of the month," Boeing Chairman Lewis Platt said. "The team is very enthused. I would be surprised not to get a request for approval." Boeing is looking to boost the 747-400's seating from 416 passengers to 450, re-engine the aircraft with the 787's more fuel-efficient powerplants and boost its maximum takeoff weight to 910,000 lb.
Ramping up production rates isn't risk-free. As Bair reviews 787 plans, he is wary of Boeing's bitter experience in 1997-98 when it tried to surge the 737 Next Generation production line and overcommitted on delivery rates. Boeing expects to deliver 320 aircraft this year and 375-385 in 2006. It has sold out more than 85% of next year's production slots, about normal by this time of year.
"Clearly, we're getting additional demand across the family," Mulally said, referring to growth in the 737 and 777 families, the company's current best-sellers. Any decision to boost their production will wait until Boeing reports on its second-quarter results, after June 30.
In the case of the A380, manufacturing problems have pushed back customer deliveries 2-6 months, depending on the airline, and won't be resolved for "a couple of years," says Airbus Chief Operating Officer Gustav Humbert. He cites two factors for the delays: weight control and wiring. Some parts had to be rebuilt to reduce weight, which he says has been achieved. Additionally, defining interior wiring demands, particularly for the upper deck, turned out to be more difficult because of the many different cabin configurations being offered. The problem has now been fully defined and the process should be under control in the next two months, he contends.
Heading into the frenzy of the Paris air show, Boeing held an 81-aircraft order lead over Airbus for the year, welcome news after losing its traditional order-and-delivery leadership to Airbus in 2003 and 2004.
Airbus announced several firm orders at the show, as well as many more intents to purchase aircraft, signaling the gap will close. The most significant order is from Kingfisher Airlines, which became the first A380 customer in the huge Indian growth market (see sidebar).
However, Boeing remains ahead and in 2008 expects to retain the lead in deliveries. Airbus officials are putting a slightly different spin on the situation. Forgeard said first-quarter earnings before interest and tax margins for the European aircraft maker stood at 12.6%, compared to 7.7% for Boeing. Although he acknowledged Airbus won't be able to stay at that level for the year, the company's margin will remain in the double digits, he said.
Airbus officials insist the margin differential reflects significant discounts Boeing is offering.
For its part, Boeing's chief salesman, Scott Carson, said the company's successes in lean manufacturing techniques over the past half-dozen years--it's halved production times on the 737 line--have allowed it to re-evaluate sales prices. "Our costs are not as high as we thought," he said.
But he denied that Boeing makes unprofitable deals. "I made a commitment to my boss [Mulally] when I took this job that we'd do no silly deals," he said.
The normal rules of the game are that during an aircraft's development stage, commitments can be reported, along with firm orders. Once in production, only firm orders--those for which purchase contracts have been signed--are officially reported. However, at Paris, the rules were bent somewhat. The following sales activity was reported:
Qatar Airways signed commitments for 60 A350s, giving Airbus' response to the A380 a healthy start. The aircraft will arrive in a mix of standard A350-800s and stretch -900s, with the first -800s arriving in 2010. Airbus is to announce its official launch of the A380 in September.
Alafco, a Kuwait-based leasing company, said it will take 12 A350s, with options for six. First delivery is in 2012.
GE Commercial Aviation Services (Gecas) said it will order 10 A350-800s with options to convert to -900s. President/CEO Henry Hubschman said the leasing company hasn't made a commitment yet on the 787.
Airbus said Jet Airways will be the first in India to operate the A330, purchasing 10 -200/-300s and leasing two more from International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC).
Boeing said it has reached agreement with Jet Airways to take six 777-200LRs, four 777-300ERs and 10 737-800s, but the contracts have yet to be signed.
Singapore's Tiger Airways said it will buy eight more A320s to add to the four it already operates.
Already a major 777-300ER buyer, ILFC said it will take six more and two 777-200ERs, plus 20 737-700/800s.
Gecas ordered 20 737s and identified itself as the customer of 12 737s ordered last year but not identified.
Air Europa bought 18 737-800s and took options on 12. It operates 27 -800s and two 737-400s.
Qatar Airways committed to 20 777s without designating the type.
Ryanair bought five 737NGs.
Boeing said Alaska Airlines ordered 35 737-800s with options for 15, and took purchase rights for another 50. Three of the 35 aircraft were on Boeing's order list for an unidentified customer.
In addition to its five A380s, Kingfisher committed to buying five A350s and five A330-200s.
Air Sahara will lease two 777-200ERs from ILFC.
Air Cairo is completing purchase of six A318s.
Mexico's ABC Aerolineas signed a preliminary agreement to buy 10 A320s with 10 options.
Brazil's TAM bought 20 A319/A320/A321s and took options on 20. It signed a preliminary agreement for eight A350-900s with seven options.
Air Caraibes signed a letter of intent for two A330-200s.