Every leading aerospace company has to spend a large fortune on innovation – just to stay ahead of the pack. Each year Airbus invites journalists to an intense overload of information at their Innovations Day briefing. This year’s briefing was held in Hamburg, Germany.
The key information from the Innovations Days briefings can be distilled into eight subjects:
1. Good times
Tom Williams, Chief Operating Officer of Airbus, kicked off the company’s Innovation Days 2016 with several programme updates. He said that aircraft deliveries have doubled in the last decade. The COO said the company is enjoying an eight year backlog, at the current aircraft production rate.
2. Airbus builds gliders
Tom Williams went on record to express his irritation with Pratt & Whitney. A software problem with Pratt's Geared Turbofan delayed final completion of almost 50 A320neos. "We've been building gliders," Williams said. By June just six aircraft had been delivered (two to Lufthansa and four to IndiGo), which have logged about 2,200 revenue flight hours since the Entry Into Service. Williams said teething issues – the start-up time of the PW1100G engines and FADEC faults – are expected to be solved by mid-year. By June, 14 engineless A320neos were waiting for their P&W engines.
3. The Leap Engine for the Boeing MAX?
Boeing’s problems of trying to fit a large diameter fan on the 737 MAX’s low wing have been well-covered in FlightCom, but they would dearly like to install the larger Leap-1A that Airbus uses on its A320neo.
Klaus Roewe, the head of Airbus's A320 programme, was however sceptical of reports that Boeing is studying the potential use of the larger CFM Leap-1A on a further stretch of the 737 MAX to counter the spectacular sales success of the Airbus A321neo. Adapting the CFM engine for the MAX would be a "quantum leap," Roewe said.
True to form, John Leahy called Boeing’s contemplated 737-10 MAX the “Mad Max.”
4. A320 production rates
The Airbus sales division, under super-salesman John Leahy, sells more A320s than the three A320 factories around the world can produce. Surprising all the assembled journalists right upfront in the presentations, COO Tom Williams denied that they would raise output of A320s beyond the 60 per month they plan to make in 2019. "I think 60 is enough," Williams said. "With the fuel price moving as it is, clearly it becomes more challenging to sell 320s." Leahy, however, openly disagreed with Williams. "I think 63 will be required." And he reckoned strong demand might require a rate even higher than that after 2019.
Klaus Roewe announced plans to add a fourth final assembly line in Hamburg for Airbus’s single-aisle aircraft, besides a cabin furnishing station in Toulouse (thus avoiding ferry flights to Hamburg). Also, the company will add a new pulse line in Broughton for the production of wings.
5. Competition from Bombardier’s C-series
The soon to retire John Leahy showed he is still not afraid of controversy when he downplayed Bombardier's hugely significant order from Delta for its new C-Series. Leahy said he had “heard" Bombardier sold the jets to Delta for just US$22 million each and will lose US$7 million on every aircraft. "By selling it faster, they'll put the company out of business faster," he said.
Leahy also provided a quick riposte when asked about his earlier vow to strangle the fledgling C-Series programme. "It's a cute little airplane," he said, "and nobody strangles a cute little anything."
Notably, in 2015 Airbus had decided not to buy the entire C-Series programme from struggling Bombardier, despite Leahy saying that Airbus could make the aircraft profitable by implementing efficiencies that would cut the production cost of each C-Series by about US$6 million.
6. A350 Deliveries.
A few years ago Boeing was embarrassed to have a car park full of 787s that it could not deliver. Airbus has the same problem with its A350XWB.
Airbus still hopes to deliver 50 A350s in 2016, even though delays attributed to cabin suppliers, particularly seat makers, have allowed it to deliver just 15 of the jets so far this year. "The beginning of the year has really been disturbed by the lack of cabin equipment," said Didier Evrard, Airbus's executive Vice President for Programmes. "There was a very big crisis." But he maintained that Airbus will be able to make up lost ground and hit its delivery target of 50. "The target remains absolutely achievable," he assured the sceptical journalists.
“Since entry into service, the A350-900 has opened 28 new destinations, transported over two million passengers and the fleet has logged 8,500+ flight cycles averaging 12+ hours of use,” Evrard said.
The A350-1000 is on track for its first flight, planned for Q3 2016 with deliveries commencing in the second half of 2017. Currently, all three aircraft are in the Final Assembly Line, the first (MSN 50) with a new six-wheel landing boogie fitted and another (MSN 59) is having the new Rolls Royce Trent XWB-97 engines installed.
The transition to the A330neo is also on track with the suppliers and sub-assemblies produced by Airbus. The first aircraft will be assembled in the last quarter of 2016, with its first flight scheduled to take place in the first half of 2017. Evrard highlighted that the new A330neo Airspace cabin will offer an A350 cabin style with new fittings, which will allow the addition 10 additional seats with Space Flex/Smart Lavatory options.
The A380 status was also presented. Fears that a lack of new orders would force the ‘super jumbo’ to stop being built had fortunately been allayed by yet another vote of confidence from Emirates. Emirates President, Tim Clark, said his airline will buy more of the existing A380ceo model if Airbus decides not to go ahead with a neo version. The airline has ordered 142 A380s, of which 77 are now in operation. Clark said Emirates could increase its A380 fleet to 200 when the airline moves to Dubai’s second airport, although that switch is unlikely before 2023.
The A380neo has been shelved for the time being, as Airbus concentrates on the A350-1000.
Evrard commented that the industrial break-even for the programme was reached the last year, while admitting that the company is having “challenges finding operators with a small fleet, as they are concerned with risk.” Nevertheless, Airbus continues making incremental improvements to the double-decker. Latest is a new upper deck sidewall lining, which may add up to 10 new business class seats and a potential US$6 million in annual revenue for operators.