Faury Sees Renewed Widebody Demand, Sticks To Narrowbody Production Target
Airbus is seeing early signs in the recovery of demand for long-haul aircraft and “may start the widebody [production] ramp-up earlier than we thought,” CEO Guillaume Faury tells Aviation Week.
“We just started to see at the IATA [annual general assembly] airlines looking at widebodies,” Faury says. He predicts a “gregarious effect” precipitated by one airline placing a major order enticing others to follow suit in order to secure production slots and protect market share in the long-range sector. The dynamics are affected by the large number of widebodies that have been retired since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Faury says. “We went from overcapacity in the market in 2018 and 2019 to undercapacity in 2023 and 2024,” he predicts.
Faury believes that there will be strong demand for widebodies in the second half of the decade. At this point, Airbus plans to raise monthly A350 output from five to six aircraft in early 2023 and A330neo rates from two to three at the end of this year.
The full interview will be published online on July 7 and in the July 11 Aviation Week & Space Technology print edition.
Faury acknowledges severe problems in the Airbus supply chain that is making the planned ramp-up to 75 aircraft per month in 2025 and the target of delivering 720 commercial aircraft in 2022 tough challenges.
“We at Airbus said in the first half of 2021 that the industry should be prepared for a ramp-up. Many were saying that we were stupid,” Faury says. “Many waited, maybe the engine manufacturers as well, but then it was too late. You are behind the curve and when the curve is steep it is extremely difficult to catch up. That is exactly where we are now.”
Airbus is currently back to building “gliders”—otherwise completed aircraft waiting for engines to be delivered.
The problems mean that the company may not expand its market share in the narrowbody sector as quickly as it would like given the strong demand for the A320neo family. “On the single-aisle, it is a supply-constrained market at least in the short-term,” Faury says. To accommodate the production increase over the next three years, Airbus is adding two final assembly lines—one in Toulouse and the other in Mobile, Alabama—bringing its total number of lines to 10.
Faury nonetheless stresses that he is not prepared to drop the production targets. “Is it time to give up? Of course not,” he says. “The teams are working like crazy; suppliers are ramping up, we are shaking the engine manufacturers to have them recover, they tell us they will recover.” He also points to the 2018 production crisis when Airbus was able to meet its delivery target of 800 aircraft despite the fact it was also lacking hundreds of engines in the middle of the year and had to store hundreds of aircraft.
The Airbus CEO says that in his view it made no sense for Boeing to launch a new conventional aircraft ahead of the technology breakthroughs in 2035. “I think they are coming to those conclusions as well. It is just the brutal facts,” Faury says. “If you launch an aircraft today, five or 10 years later there will be something much better. Your investment is worthless. I would not do it for Airbus.”
He also pointed to the technology roadmap for engines. General Electric and Safran are preparing the next generation of single-aisle capable engines in their Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines (RISE) project, with entry into service targeted for 2035. “RISE will be available for Boeing and Airbus at the same time. Will [Boeing] use an old engine five years before we use RISE? Who would do this?” Faury asks.
However, the liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft Airbus plans to develop for 2035 will not be a direct replacement of today’s single-aisle products. “Our first aircraft will probably be near the smaller size [of less than 100 passengers with a range of 1,000 nm], but it’s just my guess, not the conclusion of the study,” Faury says. “It is going to be more regional.” Faury also pointed to the fact that “a very large number of flights are below 1,000 nm.”
The narrowing down of the first aircraft in Airbus’ ZEROe program to a regional profile would still leave a requirement for a potentially conventional replacement of today’s large narrowbodies in the 2030s.
In spite of the technology challenges, Faury remains strongly supportive of hydrogen as a future fuel. “Will it be a big share of the carbon savings by 2050? No, it will still be small, there will be initially one plane and to be there in 2035 we need to start now,” he says. “[But] at the end of the century, hydrogen will be a very significant part of the fuels we are using.”
In the interim, the industry’s hopes rest on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). “Two years ago, I was desperate,” Faury says with a view to the slow pick-up. “But I am amazed to see the speed at which things are changing.”