Airbus delays as A380 production continues to stall

June 1, 2008

Delays to Airbus flagship A380 came as no surprise to anyone following the extended story of this mega-engineering project. Do we have a tale of a jumbo jet turning into a white elephant?

The extended case against former Boss Noel Forgeard rumbles on. This may still be harmful to the company. But the production struggles associated with the A380 persist, and seem more likely to prove commercially damaging.

When a project starts badly there seem to be inevitably further problems right down the line. How much of this due to the complexities of project management? How much to leadership or lack of it?

The company said the latest delays were due to problems moving from the initial production phase, responsible for the first 25 aircraft, to a more intensive production line. No details were given about the financial implications of the announcement.

“The extent of the additional costs will be influenced by the actual production and delivery scenario,” Airbus said.

Airbus – which is part of aerospace group EADS – now plans to deliver 12 planes this year, instead of the 13 expected. In 2009, 21 A380s will be supplied to carriers against the previous plan to deliver 25. Deliveries for 2010 would be discussed with airlines in the coming weeks.

A scale-up problem?

Further light is thrown on the delay by Aerospace reporter James Wallace

The latest delays will affect planes that are delivered in 2009 and 2010. These are what Airbus calls its “Wave 2” A380s, in which new automated production methods will be used that eventually will streamline the production process. The first 25 A380s are essentially being wired by hand, and problems with the wiring bundles caused the earlier major delays.

Wallace writes with insight about the pressures facing the rival firms Boeing and EADS. He recalls with some nostalgia how

Thirteen years ago [dating back from May 15th 2008] Boeing Co. delivered the first 777 to United Airlines — on schedule to the very day it had been promised years earlier. But meeting schedules for the next generation of jets from Boeing and Airbus, with all the advanced technology and new production methods, has proved impossible.

The A380 production lines are struggling, but Wallace offers even more gloomy expectations for the challenges facing the rivals and their next generation promises for the 787 (Boeing) and A350 (Airbus/EADS).

Commenting for the Herald Tribune, Caroline Brothers outlines the press conference call from Thomas Enders which briefed on the delay.

Because of rising fuel prices, the delivery slowdown will hurt airlines seeking to get the most efficient aircraft onto their flight schedules. Enders declined to estimate the financial impact of the delay until Airbus completed discussions with its customers. Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qantas are all expecting deliveries this year. Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are expected to receive the A380 in 2009.

The report also suggested that Air France might take a particularly hard hit. Now that’s something worth watching out for. Surely political influences on EADS are not being exercised in a direction which disadvantages French interests?

Acknowledgement: Image from M Puddy’s excellent Aerospace website