Is 2005 the Year of the Airbus A380?


Is 2005 the Year of the Airbus A380?

As we come to the end of another year the world of aviation waits with expectancy for Tuesday 18 January 2005, the official roll out day for the Airbus A380 at Toulouse. It is bound to be a great event with all the hierarchy around in great numbers and everyone patting each other on the back. The real work would have been done not by the civil servants and front men celebrating in style but by engineers, tool makers and designers from across Europe and throughout the industrial world. The emergence of the A380 is to the credit of the whole aviation industry. One word of caution however. Don't believe Airbus when they say that only 4% of the cost is assembly. The fact that Airbus is centered in Toulouse has turned a once sleepy French provincial city into a real growth town. The center of European aviation is now in south west France.

Amongst all the euphoria last week EADS estimated the cost overrun on the A380 at E1.45bn / US$1.92bn, including work to improve its efficiency and weight. Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard has publicly put the figure at E1bn / US$1.32bn over budget.

Over the last two weeks both Airbus and Boeing have been to London making presentations on their 20 year forecasts. In fact when you actually unravel the costly (but very well produced) discourses Airbus predict a requirement for 17,328 new aircraft in the plus one hundred seat range over the next two decades and Boeing 20,000. This represents an average of 830 units per year (using the Airbus figures) as against approximately 315 aircraft from Airbus and around 280 from Boeing in 2004, produced in factories at Hamburg and Toulouse, and two in Seattle.

Either there is going to be a substantial rise in production at the exiting sites or new assembly lines will have to open, perhaps in China. The Russians might also get their act together and are capable of building fine aircraft. What emerges from the federation of former communist countries we wait to see.

By mid-January the A380 order book may have risen from the present, and not insubstantial, 129. Compare that with when Boeing unveiled the first 747, 178 orders including 40 for Pan Am, the same again for BOAC (soon to become BA) and substantial commitments from JAL, Lufthansa and United Airlines amongst others. To date 1,351 Boeing 747s have been delivered with at least 34 to follow. Will the same kind of numbers be produced for the 21st century 'Jumbo'? The outlook...

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