Just when the 747-8’s production rate was ramped down at its Everett facility (state of Washington), Boeing announced that the 737’s production rate will be ramped up at its Renton, Washington facility , from its existing 38 airplanes per month, to 42 per month in the first half of 2014, and next 47 airplanes per month in 2017, the highest rate ever for its best-selling airliner. Boeing currently has more than 3,400 unfilled orders across the 737 family, which includes the 737Max.
Airbus, in contrast, has 4,223 unfilled orders across the Airbus A320 family, which includes the A320NEO. Across its global production facilities, Airbus already produces 42 airplanes a month since 2012, the highest-ever rate for any commercial aircraft, and has no immediate plans for a production ramp up over concerns of supply chain fragility.
The A320 Family is produced on two Airbus assembly lines in Europe: Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany; which have been complemented by an additional facility in China. Toulouse is home to the initial assembly line, building A320s; Hamburg has responsibility for the A318, A319 and A321; while Tianjin assembles A319s and A320s.
Tianjin is Airbus’ first assembly facility located outside of Europe, resulting from a joint venture involving Airbus with a Chinese consortium comprising the Tianjin Free Trade Zone (TJFTZ) and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC).
Joining this network will be a new A320 Family production facility in Mobile, Alabama USA, which is to build A319, A320 and A321 jetliners beginning in 2015.
Boeing, however, produces the Boeing 737 only at its Renton facility.
Boeing announced that it will adjust the production rate for the 747-8 program from 1.75 airplanes to 1.5 airplanes per month through 2015 because of lower market demand for large passenger and freighter airplanes.
“This production adjustment better aligns us with near-term demand while stabilizing our production flow, and better positions the program to offer the 747-8’s compelling economics and performance when the market recovers,” said Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager, 747 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Although we are making a small adjustment to our production rate, it doesn’t change our confidence in the 747-8 or our commitment to the program.”
The company expects long-term average growth in the air cargo market to begin returning in 2014, and forecasts global demand for 760 large airplanes (such as the 747-8) over the next 20 years, valued at $280 billion. The large aircraft market is unpredictable, but Boeing had attempted to predict it during the A380 program: that the market was shifting away from very large airplanes to smaller ones. In 2012, Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing vice president Randy Tinseth had said, referring to historic statistics “demand has been met by more flights to more places, rather than by bigger aircraft." He pointed out that the outlook figure for large-aircraft demand had fallen.
The trend is toward lower capacity, large twin engine aircraft that are more fuel efficient and cost effective.
Lufthansa is already considering an early 747-8 retirement, replacing it with the 777-9X. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has stated his preference for a twin over a quad jet, simply because of the inherent efficiencies.
To date, the 747-8 has accumulated 107 orders for passenger and cargo versions, 56 of which have been delivered. Of these, the 747-8I, the passenger version, has orders for only 40 units, of which 17 have been delivered. 9 have been delivered to Lufthansa, the only airline operator of the type, and 8 to VIP customers: Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, Royal Flight Oman, State of Kuwait, Qatar Amiri Flight (3), and the United Arab Emirates Government.
The first delivery at the new production rate is expected in early 2014. According to Boeing, The production rate change is not expected to have a significant financial impact.