Airbus Retirements In 2012


Some warning signs are emerging for the marketability of Airbus A320-200, A340-300 and A340-600 aircraft, which warrants keeping an eye on what happens with the sales, storage or retirement of those aircraft for the rest of this year and beyond.

For example, an Aviation Week fleets database analysis shows that A320-200 retirements surged to 42 in 2012—at an average age of 20—which compares to annual retirement numbers ranging from 21 to 26 aircraft for 2009-2011. That is still a very small portion of the A320 fleet, with more than 5,000 still in operation, but could be the beginning of a trend. Fifty-six A320-200s remained in storage at the end of 2012—a few more than were in storage when the year began.

A320s with International Aero Engine’s V2500-A1 engines have become particularly difficult to place because the market for them essentially is confined to current V2500-engine operators, says Owen Geach, commercial director for the International Bureau of Aviation (IBA), a U.K.-based company specializing in aviation asset management, valuations and remarketing. Blades within the engines make good spares, however, which enhances the engines’ part-out value, he adds.

A320s with CFM engines have a better market because there are more operators of that type, and the commonality is important for maintenance costs and the ability to interchange engines.

The impact of the V2500 on the model’s retirements should be muted, however, because there are relatively few A320s that use them; the more advanced V2527 engine is much more common. Of the 42 A320 retirements last year, 12 were aircraft using the V2500, Aviation Week’s database shows.

Geach says the Airbus A340 market also is showing some signs of trouble because of the cessation of the model’s production, with prices on A340-300s dropping as low as $4 million-$6 million, primarily for the engine components.

IBA, which is helping to manage four Airbus A340-600 aircraft last operated by Virgin Atlantic, says it is having problems finding buyers for that heavier, extended range variant. That is primarily because of Rolls-Royce’s control over the engine aftercare market, which lowers the aircraft’s end-of-life value, Geach asserts.

“No teardown companies will buy them, as they would have no operators to sell or lease engines or engine parts to since Rolls has 98% of operators enrolled on TotalCare,” the engine manufacturer’s proprietary maintenance program, he says. "I think you will see some sitting parked. They should be worth $50 million and you can’t put a value on them because no one wants to buy.”

As I have previously reported, marketers also have raised Rolls-Royce's control over engine maintenance as an issue with finding airlines to take ERJ aircraft. Rolls-Royce, however, insists that TotalCare is a selling point, not a detractor.

If there are A340 pressures, they are not yet showing up much in aircraft retirement or storage data.  Only a handful of A340s have been retired in recent years, and just one in 2012 (an A340-300).The number of A340-400s in storage by the end of 2012 increased to 10, up from 6 at the beginning of the year, but that is still a small number.

The story is the same for the A340-600: five in storage by year’s end, four more than when the year began. Four of those five came from Virgin Atlantic.

Airbus A310-200 retirements in 2012 reached 10, up from 1 in 2011. But that is well below the high-water market of 20 retirements in 2009.

The older Airbus A300 already has gone through its big retirement cycles, with nothing obvious on the horizon that could cause another big spike.

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