Airbus sees recovery in 2010

Airbus officials see a recovery in the global economy and passenger traffic next year, they said this week at the Airbus Innovation Days in Hamburg.
We were among about 90 journalists to attend the event, formerly known as the Technical Briefing and held in Toulouse.

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There was little new technically to talk about-after all, what else is there to say about the A380, A350 and A400M programs that isn’t well known? (Just a few things, which we’ll get to later.) So the news really came from non-technical items.

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Officials argued that the current economic downturn has bottomed out in passenger and freight traffic. While none of the officials suggest a rapid upturn, the believe growth will resume next year.

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This is important to the critical question over production. Airbus earlier announced a freeze in A330 production and a reduction of A320 rates from 36/mo to 34/mo beginning in October. (Boeing previously announced a rate reduction for the 777 from seven to five from June 2010 but no change, as yet, on the 737 rate of 31/mo.)

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Tom Williams, head of production for Airbus, told a small group of journalists (including this one) during a break in the formal presentations that only last week he held a suppliers meeting at which he said no further rate cuts are expected. (Williams was later subject to a juvenile attack by a blogger who wasn’t present and certainly had no clue over the context which this perpetually name-dropping blogger leveled his criticism.)

In what can only be characterized as a startling prediction given the current economy and unanimous sentiment by analysts that Airbus and Boeing production needs to be cut more, COO-customers John Leahy forecast that the A320 line could return to 40/mo by YE10. Williams told us that, yes, studies were underway about how fast production could be ramped back up for the A320 and A330.

Other items of interest:

  • Test results of the Aviation Partners winglets on the A320 are being analyzed. This will be ready in 4-6 weeks, which happens to be just in time for the Paris Air Show, where little news is expected this year.
  • The Australian KC-330 refueling boom should “pass gas” (to use the American phrase, or transfer fuel, to be properly British) this summer.
  • Not announced at the event but revealed in the Australian defense budget is that the KC-330 won’t be delivered until 1Q10, about 18 months late. We will have more on this at a future date.
  • CEO Tom Enders, in a discussion with a small group of the journalists (once again including this one) gave a solid defense of the A320 assembly line in China. More on this in a future column.
  • Enders also talked with this small group about how Airbus’ A350 production will differ from the 787 model. More in the future.

Finally, a word about Williams and his comment that RBS was the unidentified Boeing customer that cancelled an order for 25 787s. This comment became the subject of a breathless, goofy item elsewhere. First, Flightblogger’s Jon Ostrower publicly revealed this information the preceding Friday.

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Second, it wasn’t as if Williams stood before 90 reporters and made an announcement. His remark was offhand, and in response to a direct question, during a coffee break with a small group, including the reporter who had not seen Ostrower’s piece.

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Third, information like this routinely flows from Airbus or Boeing to reporters. (Update: to be sure we are clear,  we’re not suggesting either Airbus or Boeing violate their own confidentiality with their customers. The airline industry is like a prison grapevine–there are some secrets, but not necessarily for long, and like prison grapevines, the word gets around.) The weird take on this event by the writer merely demonstrates a total lack of understanding about how reporting works.

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The writer’s remarks, and others of recent postings, are unfortunate because he actually does some good stuff now and then. This recent post is off the deep end, though. Perhaps the following quote says it best.

“The challenge is distinguishing those sources and pages from the various blogs, Twitters and other sites which sometimes position themselves as authoritative – but really are not.”

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