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2021 will be a much better year.

(This is the position at the end of December 2020.)

2020 was a terrible year but, moving on, 2021 looks to be much better. Things might change but Airbus and Boeing are projecting larger delivery numbers than in 2020. This mostly applies to single-aisle aircraft and not much change is anticipated in the widebody segment. Last year Airbus delivered 566 aircraft and the projection for this year is for about 650. Boeing delivered 157 aircraft last year and plans on producing about 452 new aircraft this year. That figure does not include deliveries of the completed 737 MAX jets which have been parked but it does include new-build MAX jets.

There were 723 aircraft deliveries in 2020 and the projection for this year is for about 1,100. This is still over 500 fewer deliveries than in 2018 (the record year) and roughly 140 fewer than in 2019 but it is a big step in the direction of production recovery. The 1,100 figure breaks down to 885 single-aisle aircraft and 215 widebodies which in turn means 358 more single-aisles than in 2020 and roughly 20 more widebodies. What helps the single-aisle figure is the fact that Boeing has started to deliver the MAX again. There were 27 deliveries in December, the first since March 2019 when the aircraft was grounded. Something else that helps is that Airbus single-aisle figures have been rising.

Translated into engine installs, the 2021 projection means some 1,770 single-aisle engines, about 716 more than in 2020, and 450 widebody engine installs, 40 more than last year. The widebody engine figure presumes that the last five A380s will be delivered this year and that five 747-8Fs will also be delivered.

The single-aisle aircraft increase is slower than was previously announced by the manufacturers. Airbus had been talking of A320 Family production going from the current 40 per month to 47 per month late in 2021. Now the company says that A320 Family production will go to 43 per month in the Third Quarter and then 45 per month in the Fourth Quarter. Boeing had said that 737 production would go to 31 per month either late in 2021 or early in 2022, but now say that it will be 31 per month in early 2022.

Airbus and Boeing do not see any large increases in production, i.e. back to pre-pandemic levels, for some time to come. Airbus recently issued a statement saying that the company expects the commercial aircraft market to return to pre-Covid levels by 2023 to 2025. Well, 2019 was the pre-Covid year and it was also Airbus’ record year. Boeing’s record year was 2018. Airbus will need an extra 210 aircraft on top of the projected 650 this year to get back to the 2019 delivery total. Boeing will need an extra 350 aircraft deliveries on top of the 452 projected for this year to get back to the 2018 record figure. This will all take time, perhaps three to four years.

What is different this year is that early on the manufacturers have given some clear guidance on what they expect in 2021. Airbus say that the A220 rate will go from the current four per month to five per month at the end of Q1. The A330 rate will remain at two per month and the A350 rate  will be five per month. The rate increase for this program has been postponed to a later and unspecified date. The A380 program terminates this year. Emirates is the sole customer now with five on backlog.

Boeing’s widebody rates remain pretty well unchanged: The 747 rate is one every two months and that won’t change. The 767 rate will stay at three per month and the 777 rate will stay at two per month. The 787 rate was to have dropped to six per month early this year but will be five per month as of the Second Quarter.

On another subject, this industry has long been obsessed with orders and slightly paranoid about cancellations. The aircraft order intake dropped in 2019 and then dropped again last year, to 567 aircraft gross. There were 791 cancellations leaving a net order intake of -224. It was much the same sort of picture with engines; 990 were ordered but 1,544 were cancelled leaving a net intake of -554.

Orders recovery might be some way off and this points to backlogs dropping further. Last year the large commercial jet aircraft backlog dropped by 926 to just over 13,000 which means there is plenty of work in hand but the annual volume of work will be lower than before. The number of engines on firm order also dropped, by just over 1,900 last year leaving 25,140 on order at the end of the year.

What is of some concern is the decline of the widebody aircraft and engine backlogs. By the end of last year the widebody aircraft backlog had dropped for 17 consecutive months and the widebody engine order book had dropped for 15 consecutive months. The rate of decline has slowed but there are now over 450 fewer widebody aircraft on backlog than there were two years ago, and 900 fewer widebody engines.

Phil Abbott.

Editor & Publisher