Airbus To Further Boost Narrowbody Production, Delay A321XLR Service Entry

Airbus A321XLR
Credit: Airbus

Airbus is going ahead with the long-debated further increase in its single-aisle output over the next three years and is delaying entry-into-service of the A321XLR by a few months.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury confirmed May 4 that the manufacturer will raise its A320neo family single-aisle production from 65 aircraft per month that it aims to reach by the summer of 2023 to 75 aircraft per month in 2025, roughly a 14% increase. The work for the additional ten aircraft will be spread across all of the sites, but importantly Mobile, Alabama will be expanded to include a second A320neo family final assembly line. All sites will be made capable of building A321neos, the production share of which is expected to continue to rise.

The plans will lead Airbus to build 89 narrowbody aircraft per month from 2025 if the A220 is included. Airbus has previously stated that it plans to boost output of that type from six to 14 per month within the next three years. If implemented, Airbus will produce almost three times as many single-aisle aircraft as Boeing, unless its U.S. rival moves along in raising production. However, Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun said April 27 that the company has no plans for the time being to go beyond rate 31 given constraints it has discovered in its own supply chain.

Such largely different production volumes would, over time, lead to further significant shifts in the single-aisle market shares. And recent industry trends show single-aisles taking an even larger part of the overall market, given the weakness of the widebody segment and the retrenching of some regional jets.

“We see continuing strong growth in commercial aircraft demand driven by the A320 family,” Faury said. Airbus has shared the plans with the engine manufacturers and is “confident in the supply chain being able to manage” the ramp-up. Key engine OEMs like Safran have voiced serious concern about the supply chain not being able to cope with the volumes required. 

A recent survey by aerospace consultancy H&Z found that 41% of Airbus suppliers are second-guessing the OEM’s forecasts and rather prefer to make their own assumptions. In December 2021, 45% described the planned Airbus rate increases as “unrealistic.” 

“That is quite alarming because it means that we are not in sync,” FACC COO Andreas Ockel told attendees at the Aviation Forum in Hamburg the same month. “Ramping up is not an issue if you have all the parts. The question is, who takes what bets? Even a single missing part will make the ramp-up stall. It will make leverage [and inventory] shoot to the top again [for everyone else],” Ockel warned then.

Delay For A321XLR

Separately, Airbus announced that it is shifting entry-into-service of the A321XLR from the end of 2023 to early 2024, by about one (fiscal) quarter, Faury said. He pointed out that Airbus is “in discussions with customers to minimize the impact.”

Faury did not confirm the exact reasons for the delay, other than saying that the certification process “takes a bit more time than we had assumed.” Airbus is “refining the design in the certification process,” he said.

The issues are believed to be related to the rear-center fuel tank (RCT) that is to be added on the A321XLR as a fixed feature that is also part of the aircraft’s structure. Airbus plans to install insulation between the tank and the passenger cabin to avoid a “cold-feet effect” but has told EASA in the ongoing certification process that there is no space for fire protection fully compliant with current standards between the tank and the passenger cabin. A special condition consultation process is ongoing that is open for comments until May 23.

Faury said that there will be “no material impact” on the aircraft’s specifications or range even if there are design changes. Airbus advertises the aircraft at a range of 4,700 nm.

According to Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery database, Airbus currently has 526 firm orders for the aircraft.

As for the current situation in the commercial aircraft market, Faury conceded that “the risk profile for the rest of the year has become more challenging.” He referred to factors such as the war in Ukraine, supply chain constraints and inflation. Nonetheless, Airbus kept its 2022 guidance in place and expects to hand over 720 commercial aircraft to customers. The company delivered 142 in the first quarter. Airbus plans to hire around 6,000 new employees in 2022.

In the commercial aircraft business, first quarter revenues rose by 17% to €8.5 billion ($8.9 billion). Its reported EBIT increased by 262% to €1.2 billion, giving the unit a 14% operating margin.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.