Five Takeaways From a Visit to Airbus

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Airbus's annual Innovation Days briefing has drawn more than 170 aerospace journalists from around the globe to Hamburg, Germany. Here are five takeaways from the first day of the event:

1. A320 Production Rates. Tom Williams, Airbus's chief operating officer, sought to quash talk that the air framer could raise output of A320s beyond the 60 per month it plans to reach in 2019. "I think 60 is enough," he said. "With the fuel price moving as it is, clearly it becomes more challenging to sell 320s." But John Leahy, Airbus's chief salesman, openly disagreed with Williams at a dinner later in the day. "My guess is we have to go above 60," he said. "I think 63 will be required." And, he allowed, strong demand just might require a rate even higher than that -- after 2019. 

2. Dismissing the CSeries. Leahy derided Bombardier's recent breakout order from Delta for its new CSeries jet. He said he "heard" Bombardier sold the jets to Delta for just $22 million apiece and will lose $7 million on each aircraft. "Probably by selling it faster they'll put the company out of business faster," he said. Leahy said Airbus, which last fall took a pass on buying the CSeries program from Bombardier, had determined that it could make the aircraft profitable by implementing efficiencies that would cut the cost of each CSeries by about $6 million. He also had a quick comeback when asked about his earlier vow to strangle the fledgling CSeries program. "It's a cute little airplane," he said. "And nobody strangles a cute little anything." 

3. Poking Pratt. Williams used his time in the spotlight to publicly express his irritation with Pratt & Whitney. A software glitch with Pratt's Geared Turbofan engine has delayed final completion of several dozen Airbus A320neos. "We've been building gliders," Williams complained.  But he expressed confidence in Pratt's plan to fix the problem. "Quite soon, we've got new engines coming from Pratt," he said.

4. A350 Deliveries. Airbus still plans to deliver 50 A350s in 2016, even though delays attributed to cabin suppliers -- particularly seat suppliers --  have allowed it to deliver just nine of the widebody jets so far this year. "The beginning of the year has really been disturbed by the lack of cabin equipment," said Didier Evrard, Airbus's executive vice president for Programs. "There was a very big crisis." But he maintained that Airbus will be able to mobilize to make up lost ground and hit its delivery target of 50.  "The target remains absolutely achievable."

5. A Leap Engine for the MAX? Airbus bigwigs were skeptical of reports that Boeing is studying the potential use of the larger CFM Leap-1a on a further stretch of the 737 MAX to counter the spectacular sales success of the competing Airbus A321neo. Adapting the CFM engine for the MAX would be a "quantum leap," opines Klaus Roewe, the head of Airbus's A320 program. He bragged that the neo captured 67% of sales last year versus the MAX. "We are quite unbeatable at the moment at the upper end of the family with the A321," Roewe maintained. Boeing "has to stretch the MAX because they are in a corner. But there is no easy way out of the corner." 

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