Airbus Slows Down Production Rate Increase

A320 hangar FAL
An Airbus A320 hangar.
Credit: Airbus

Airbus plans to raise single-aisle production rates later in 2021, but the ramp-up will be slower than previously planned “in response to the market environment.”

The manufacturer decided to gradually raise monthly A320 family rates from 40 to 43 in the third quarter and to 45 in the fourth quarter. Earlier, the company had anticipated going straight to 47 in the summer and then raise production further, in several steps, in 2022 and 2023. Airbus did not say whether the longer-term plans had changed, too.

A220 production will grow from four aircraft to five monthly in the second quarter as previously announced. However, Airbus also acknowledged that now is not the time to consider raising widebody output. “Widebody production is expected to remain stable at current levels, with monthly production rates of around five and two for the A350 and A330, respectively,” Airbus said. “This decision postpones a potential rate increase for the A350 to a later stage.”

Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said earlier in January that there are no production gaps in 2021, referring to unallocated production slots.

The manufacturer continues to project a return of the aircraft market (and with it, production rates) at some point between 2023 and 2025. CEO Guillaume Faury has also made clear that he believes the single-aisle market will recover sooner than widebodies, implying that A320neo rates could be back up at where they were by around 2023 while production of the A330 and A350 will not change for several years. They are unlikely to go lower either—as part of the group’s ongoing effort to protect the supply chain.

Airbus delivered 566 commercial aircraft in 2020, 34% less than a year earlier overall but in line with the updated plan put together after the COVID-19 pandemic took full effect in April 2020. Deliveries included 38 A220s, 446 A320 family aircraft, 19 A330s, 59 A350s and four A380s. Production was reduced by around 40% to keep supply roughly in line with reduced demand in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Airbus managed to deliver “the vast majority” of aircraft produced as deliveries and production “converged” in the 2020 third quarter.

The pandemic’s negative effect on deliveries was not evenly spread across the Airbus product line. The A330 family was hardest hit with the manufacturer handing over only 19 aircraft, around one-third of the 2019 level (42 aircraft). A350 deliveries came in at only 52% of 2019’s total, showing that the widebody segment overall was hit particularly hard in the crisis. Airbus handed over four A380s compared to eight a year earlier. By contrast, the decline was much smaller in relative terms on the narrowbody side. A320neo deliveries reached 69% of the previous year and the A220 performed even better at 79%.

Jens Flottau

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