Airbus SE said it’s preparing to gear up production of its best-selling A320-series jets beyond prepandemic levels within two years, sending a jolt of optimism into an aviation sector primed for a global recovery.
Aerospace shares jumped in Europe and the U.S. after the world’s largest maker of commercial jetliners told suppliers to be ready to raise output of the narrowbody planes to a rate of 64 per month by the second quarter of 2023.
That figure could rise to 70 a month early the following year, with 75 a possibility by 2025, Airbus said in a statement Thursday. Reaching that level would almost double its current, pandemic-depressed output.
The ambitious plan stands out in an industry that’s still struggling to gain traction after COVID-19 wiped out demand for air travel. Despite short-term flare-ups in the pandemic, the longer-term picture has brightened with the global rollout of vaccines. Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing Co. have been showing more confidence as airlines ramp up schedules for shorter flights. Still, the industry faces its next challenge with pressure to lower carbon emissions.
“We think it is premature, but Airbus is the one with a constant dialogue with airline customers, and it has called things pretty well to date,” said Sandy Morris, an analyst with Jefferies. He said he’s concerned about further disruption from the pandemic and initiatives to cut emissions. “Nonetheless, Airbus will know all that too.”
Airbus shares surged 10% to 107.50 euros in Paris for their biggest intraday gain since November. In Europe, engine and component supplier Safran SA rose 4.6%, while Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, which provides turbines for bigger planes, advanced 4.8%.
Chicago-based Boeing was up 4.1% at 10:02 a.m. in New York, after the head of Southwest Airlines Co., a big 737 customer, told The Dallas Morning News the discount carrier could grow by “hundreds of planes.” Engine supplier General Electric Co. added 4%, while Raytheon Technologies Corp., which owns Pratt & Whitney, gained 1.8%.
The Airbus announcement will give makers of parts ranging from engines to seats and avionics time to invest and be ready when demand returns.
Airbus’s comments are aimed partly at stress-testing its vast web of suppliers to ensure they can meet higher targets, while signaling to customers that it can comply with delivery requirements and won’t be open to order deferrals or cancellations, said Agency Partners analyst Sash Tusa.
Airbus and Boeing count on thousands of manufacturers who contribute to making commercial jetliners that can cost $100 million or more.
“The message to our supplier community provides visibility to the entire industrial ecosystem to secure the necessary capabilities and be ready when market conditions call for it,” Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury said in the statement.
Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, has widened its lead in single-aisle planes over Boeing during the pandemic.
With Thursday’s announcement, the company confirmed earlier plans to raise production to 43 A320-family planes per month in the third quarter of this year, reaching 45 in the fourth quarter. The figure stands at 40 per month now, a third lower than it was when the outbreak hit in early 2020.
Airbus also plans to boost output of the smaller A220 to six per month from five in early 2022, with a 14 a month envisioned by the middle of the decade. Hitting that target will require significant further orders, Tusa said.
Boeing has also made progress getting past a global grounding of its 737 MAX, the chief rival to the A320. The U.S. planemaker reiterated late last month that it plans to gradually increase production of the single-aisle jet to 31 a month in early 2022.
Larger twin-aisle aircraft are expected to take longer to recover as long-distance travel lags behind the rebound in regional hops. Airbus said it will keep production of its A330 planes at two per month, while looking to lift A350 output to six per month from five in the second half of 2022. Both are powered by Rolls-Royce engines.
In signaling to suppliers to prepare for the ramp-up, Airbus will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the reversal suffered after it announced an increase in production last October as coronavirus lockdowns were first lifted.
When a new wave of infection emerged it slowed down its plans in January, retreating from goal of reaching 47 A320s a month by July.
Faury will also want to be sure that both suppliers and Airbus’s own factories can cope with the stresses of record monthly rates. Airbus suffered delays in handovers before the pandemic as it struggled to comply with customization requests for the A321 version, prompting a cut to the 2019 delivery target.
Earlier this month, Airbus said that it had restarted work converting a French assembly line once used for its A380 superjumbo to build single-aisle jets. It should be operational by the end of 2022.
Back in 2018, Airbus had been touting build rates of 70 or even 75 a month, but under Faury it reined in those ambitions. When the pandemic hit, the plan was to lift A320 series production to 63 a month, with Airbus looking at adding a further one or two to the total.