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Looking up numbers for my answer to the A380 production question, it occurs to me that Airbus is facing a real inability to deliver its latest airframes. The A380 is currently sustaining a build pace of 45 aircraft a year with a backlog of about 150 outstanding orders. The A350, Airbus's direct competitor to the 787, has better orders (781 outstanding), but Airbus has been able to deliver only 5 of those, 4 to Qatar Airways and 1 to AerCap. The A340 ended production in 2011, so the 330 (1370 orders, backlog of 356) 350 and 380 are Airbus's only three widebodies in production right now. The 320 and 321 are backlogged badly, though Boeing has a similar backlog for 737 variants so that seems par for the course in the modern aviation industry dominated by LCCs.

Boeing has had fewer orders for its 747-8 but is keeping pace (92 delivered of 123 ordered, averaging 18 airframes a year) and has an embarrassment of riches in 787 orders (1095 ordered, 295 delivered, on pace for about 115 aircraft a year after ramp-up) and healthy business with the older 777 (backlog of 560, in the ballpark of about 80 deliveries a year since 2010). Its 767 frame, a close competitor to the A330, has slightly fewer orders despite being the older plane, but Boeing seems to be keeping pace (less than 100 backlogged in a total of 1161 orders).

I read these numbers and I come to the conclusion that Airbus is in big trouble in the large and very large jet markets it was planning to dominate just ten years ago; Boeing, by most accounts seems to be out-producing them and thus getting the lion's share of a mostly post-jumbo market. Am I reading this right?

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  • $\begingroup$ What about the A330? It seems absent from the Airbus side of the count. $\endgroup$ – BSteinhurst Jul 29 '15 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ Edited. The A330, for its size, doesn't seem to be in great demand (neither is the 767), especially with the slightly-larger and much more efficient A350, 777 and 787 in production. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Jul 30 '15 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough, I was just wondering where it fit on your list. I wonder how the military side of the production lines change the numbers though. $\endgroup$ – BSteinhurst Jul 30 '15 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ @BSteinhurst I would be surprised if Airbus does more military business than Boeing. $\endgroup$ – cpast Jul 30 '15 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ When you look at GDP growth and other indicators you will realize that the market cannot absorb 100 + narrow bodies a month over the long term. $\endgroup$ – DSarkar Jul 30 '15 at 9:24
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A backlog of orders does not indicate a manufacturing problem. Quite opposite, it is good for the business as it adds stability. Airbus outpaced Boeing on every aircraft expect the A350/787 last year.

Producing all of the backlog in one year is not a good idea, as investments into the production line would be enormous and after a year, utilization of the line would be horrible. If all A380 were to produced this year, what should they do with the production line next year? A chance of another 150 orders per year coming up is unlikely.

A350 production started last year while 787 started in 2011. The ramp-up of production has already happened for the 787, but not for the A350. According to Wikipedia, by 2018 the production has ramped up to 10 per month, which would outpace the 787 at the current capacity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Competition_between_Airbus_and_Boeing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A350_XWB#Entry_into_service

In conclusion, I do not think they have a manufacturing problem. Keeping reasonable backlog is good for the business.

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    $\begingroup$ Also remember what happened when Boeing ramped up their 737 line - wrong wiring and other defects, causing accidents in operation. It is better to use a well-educated, stable workforce and to ride out the bumps in the order book. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jul 30 '15 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think that the original question is missing an important point, which is that the backlog was taking so long to get through that customers were jumping from a380 to 748 and from a350 to 773. A backlog is fantastic...until you start losing customers. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Jul 30 '15 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr, I don't think that was due to backlog, but rather due to delays in the project. Once ram-up happens, the delivery time is quite reliable, even if long. It is the uncertainty before that that makes customers switch most. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 13 '16 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec I think we're just saying the same thing in different ways. I'm calling it backlog because, technically, they were in production (albeit not full capacity), but yes, delays in production is another way of approaching the exact same issue, so I agree with you. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Feb 13 '16 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ Also, remember that when an airline orders a plane, they know they won't get it immediately, and some of them rely on not getting the planes delivered next month. Backlog is fine because you know what to expect, as long as you're able to supply enough planes for those that need them quickly. $\endgroup$ – yo' Feb 13 '16 at 8:08
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You are correct that Airbus seems to be behind in the widebody market. However, it's not really a production issue, but an orders issue.

In airliner manufacturing, the goal is not to keep backlog at a minimum, but to balance backlog with production. When a customer orders an aircraft, they will be given an estimate for when that aircraft can be delivered. Deliveries are planned years in advance. Delivering aircraft faster may actually be worse, if the customer is not yet ready to take delivery of the aircraft. It does a manufacturer no good to burn through the backlog and run out of orders. Shutting down a production line and restarting it later is more expensive than switching to a new model.

The A380 is a very large plane with not that many orders, so a slower production rate is expected. Also, as we have discussed here, the A380 hasn't received any new orders for a while. Airbus would prefer to keep the line going at least until they decide whether to offer a new engine or stretched version of the plane. The story is similar with the 747, except that the -8 is the new engine/stretched version.

Andri is correct; A350 just recently entered service, and a low production rate is typical for new aircraft while they work out issues. The 787 has been in production for a few years and has already established a higher production rate. Both are still fairly new and so they both have a large backlog of orders to fill.

The A330 does have some remaining orders, many of which are for the future neo version with new engines. The 777 has more backlogged orders, and also has an updated model in development. The 767 is an older design, and has not had any major updates for a while. Although most customers would prefer a newer model, there are still some orders left to fill, including some for the tanker version.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1. It's really a two-side story, the airlines know they'll get the aircraft in years maybe, and the calculate with this fact usually $\endgroup$ – yo' Feb 13 '16 at 8:09

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