By Bjorn Fehrm in Hamburg
May 30, 2016, ©. Leeham Co:
Airbus has got off to a slow start for A320neo and A350 production this year. The Airbus Hamburg and Toulouse airfields are filled with A320neo aircraft waiting for engines and the A350 Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Toulouse has 40 aircraft in different states of readiness but very few are being delivered. Out of target of 50 A350 delivered in 2016, a total of nine have been delivered to customers so far.
“We have been making gliders for some time now,” said Airbus COO Tom Williams in an Airbus briefing in Hamburg,”but that is about to finish. We are getting delivery of engines from our partner Pratt & Whitney, which has a fix for a prolonged starting time and we have fixed other issues for the A320neo with software updates and changed procedures”.
“When it comes to A350 we have enough aircraft in final production ready for customer delivery after cabin installations,” Williams said. “Now we just got to work through some persistent supplier problems for the cabin side.”
The A320neo problems
The A320neo problems with their Pratt & Whitney engines were discovered rather late in the test flight program. The engines are suffering from an increased bowing of the engines rotor axis when cooling down after a mission. With the close tolerances of modern jet engines, this can cause compressor blades to rub the casing.
The fix prepared by Pratt & Whitney involves covering the compressor blade tips with a special abrading tip surface (so that the blade can create its own tip clearance by deliberate rubbing without damage to the blade) and stiffening the flexible mountings of the engine’s rotor axis. With these changes and adapted software the start-up times for the engines shall be very close to those for the previous generation of engines.
Pratt & Whitney and Airbus have also got a handle on how to avoid and deal with the spurious warnings that the engines surveillance software was generating. With a recent software update and revised operational procedure, this should not cause any operational disturbances anymore.
The A350 problems
The A350 has been plagued with a slow ramp up of production since start of deliveries in December 2014. Initially this was due to normal issues with traveled work, which meant some tasks that were not finished in earlier production steps had to be completed during final assembly. The amount of traveled work declined considerably once the production went into batch three aircraft with MSN21 (production number 21) late last year.
The base A350 aircraft causes few recent headaches in production. What has not improved is the situation with cabin suppliers of lavatories and seats. There has been continuing quality and delivery problems for these two items.
There would have been no major difference if these have been selected from Airbus catalog items (the A350 standard selection) or whether the items were to have been supplied to Airbus as Buyer Furnished Equipment (BFE, the customer selects and buys, e.g., a seat and put it at Airbus disposal for installation).
Airbus has spent considerable effort to try and improve the situation but so far there has been no breakthrough. The company is confident, however, that one has built enough extra resources (people at suppliers, extra cabin installation tent hangars, extra installation teams) that the year’s target of 50 deliveries is achievable.
The situation is helped by the fact that he A330 production is going through a dip to six aircraft per month ahead of a ramp up again when A330neo deliveries start in 18 months. The A330 and A350 share cabin installation hangars and resources and the lower activity for the A330 will help with the recovery of the production rate for the A350.
“At the end of the year we expect to be at the promised 50 aircraft after a lot of extra effort,” said Williams.
‘there has been no breakthrough’
A rather candid admission by the COO. so there appears to be a bit of wishful thinking about the 50 target by year end. It is interesting to note the chronic nature of the problem where BFE or catalogue items are both equally affected. Perhaps the string of factors mentioned will put things right, noting both quality and availability are issues, it appears that the A350 is at the end of the supplier queue at present. At least the construction of the base aircraft appears to sound and efficient.
“Airbus sales chief doubles-down on CSeries attack”
““They can’t make a business about losing $7 million an airplane,” Leahy told reporters on 30 May on the sidelines of Airbus Innovation Days.
Leahy was referencing Bombardier’s financial statement in late April that warned the company must provision in the second quarter for a $500 million loss. The provision referenced the last three combined orders for the CSeries totaling 127 aircraft, implying a $4 million average loss per unit sold. “”
And Airbus is still loosing money making the A380! Hmmm, they should charge more.
Pot calling the kettle black, you sell them for what you can get and hope the production is long enough to recover the costs. A, B or BBD
‘Leahy also provided some background on why Airbus passed on an opportunity to invest in the CSeries programme last year. Bombardier was offering the investment for a “song”, Leahy says, so the deal was seriously considered.’
I am sure they looked at it very seriously indeed. Am betting the lack of integration with the current line up was a key factor. Having sold a design philosophy across the Airbus range the CSeries would have looked a bit odd. You could argue that it would make Airbus current offerings look a bit outdated in some respects. It could have shored up the low end single aisle market and allowed the A320 platform to migrate to the A321 but at probably too substantial a cost in foregoing existing manufacturing infrastructure.
I can see why monopoly considerations would be a significant issue but I don’t have a scoobies as to how European/ global mergers could be legislated for or against. I could however see Canadian local or national government having a beef with a ‘champion’ being taken over. Is that anti trust or ‘national interest’?
@Sowerbob: I don’t pretend to understand the implications of EU/DOJ/Canada anti-trust interactions. What I do know is that the EU weighs in on US mergers with international implications (see: Boeing-McDonnell Douglas for the most relevant example) and Airbus thought a CSeries-Airbus deal would have at best a 50-50 chance of clearing anti-trust.
What’s to loose with a 50/50 chance though? 90/10 against I would say not worth it. 70/30 no again.
50/50, that should be a slam dunk, trial it and see. Get serious if it flye (pun intended)
EU competition policy for mergers.
“If a merger involves firms whose turnover is above a particular threshold it may be examined solely by the European Commission – the threshold is a combined worldwide sales of €5bn, and €250m within the European common market.
The merger may be restricted or prevented if it impedes competition significantly and therefore adversely affects consumers.”
I believe they would have still been able to take a minority stake — say, 25% or 33% — which would have given them significant stay without running into anti-trust issues.
And what is the total A320 to be delivered this year?
That sort of implies that somewhere somebody is getting worried about a duopoly turning into a de-facto monopoly.
A duopoly would often mean a lack of true innovation and just steady as it goes and only competition for the very large customers which the smaller ones pay heavily for . Does that sound familiar
“We have been making gliders for some time now,” said Airbus COO Tom Williams
Smart humor to defuse the inevitable incoming questions on the painful NEO delays.
Good for him, if it was Boeing it would get him fired!
Will see how he fare with Airbus……….
Airbus organization involves four countries with different labor laws, different political priorities, language and culture differences, strong unions. It has resulted in a production system which can never be efficient. Besides, airplanes like the A380 will never sell enough to recover development, production, product improvement and capital costs, and the A350 suffers from pretty bad quality issues and delivery delays if airlines are to be believed. In addition, there is a serious capacity gap between the A350 and A380.