Possibly it’s a sign of the times; on the one hand Airbus orders are down dramatically on 2007 and even 2008. Quoted in the Telegraph, Tom Enders, president of Airbus, said the firm might miss its target of 300 new orders this year – itself down from 777 last year and a record 1,341 in 2007. On the other hand, one sale they did make this week at the Dubai Air Show was for the industry’s first cattle class (or high density as the aircraft maker would term it) configuration of the A380. Reunion Air Austral has ordered two 850 seat all economy A380’s to run between Paris and the island of Reunion in the southern Indian Ocean. Reunion is owned by France and the airline currently runs 9 flights a week of mostly Boeing aircraft. They see their future in being able to offer mass low cost transit if they are going to open the island up to tourism. With 840 passengers on board, the plane would use 2 liters of fuel per passenger per 100kms, about half that of a Toyota Prius with just the driver inside over the same distance what a useless comparison! Anyway for anyone horrified at the prospect of cramming in with some 850 of your fellow souls in the same metal tube at 30+ thousand feet take comfort from the recent certification for use by civil aviation authorities after a Lufthansa crew directed a fire test in which 873 people, 853 “passengers” and 20 crew, were safely evacuated in under 80 seconds well you wouldn’t argue with Lufthansa crew would you?
Apparently 855 passengers is not a world record; that is rumored to be held by an El-AL Boeing 747 flight on May 24, 1991 when it officially airlifted 1,087 Ethiopian Jews to Israel during Operation Solomon. Dozens of women smuggled their children in under their skirts so the actual number was 1,122 plus two born on the flight hopefully not a regular occurrence on Reunion Air.
If airlines are turning to greater density to reduce passenger costs, Airbus themselves are facing an altogether different set of challenges. So far buttressed by a full order book, production this year looks like it will exceed last year’s record deliveries of 480 aircraft but the weakening dollar means EADS, Airbus parent, saw first-half earnings before interest and taxes fall 23% to Ã¢â€šÂ¬888m ($1300m) mostly due to foreign exchange losses brought on by the weakness of the US dollar against the Euro. Airbus is going through rigorous cost cutting under a program called “Power8 according to Reuters in the belief the exchange rate is going to stay low for the foreseeable future. That won’t be music to Airbus’ suppliers who have already faced repeated delays in the ramp up of A380 production which has undoubtedly cost them money. A380 production this year is likely to be even less than the 13 delivered last year as the firm continues to suffer production delays. And at the other end of the scale, Tom Enders hasn’t ruled out further production cuts of single aisle aircraft next year as cancellations mount.
While both Airbus and Boeing are putting a brave face on the slump in new orders such a cyclical dip was not unexpected and will no doubt prevail until well into the next decade. Such is the nature of aircraft manufacture, like aircraft food some things never change.