Airbus gears up for higher A220 production rate amid rising popularity

Two Airbus A220 aircraft in flight.
Photo Credit: Airbus

LONDON – The narrow body market has been dominated by the A320 and the Boeing 737 rivalry paradigm. We describe the rise of the A220 as a massive disruptor to the traditional ‘rivalry’, to the extent Airbus is ramping up production significantly. 

The then Airbus Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy made the C-series programme as a “nice little aircraft”, and saw the aircraft as a potential threat to the A320 family, especially the A318 and the A319 variants.

This was also the main reason why Airbus introduced the A320NEO programme back in 2010. In 2018, Airbus took over the C-Series programme due to Bombardier’s dire financial situation.

This was seen as a commercially viable move, as it gave Airbus an upper hand in combating the Boeing 737MAX in the lower end and prevented a possible sale to Boeing or China. 

Higher Production Rates 

As we speak, the production rates for the ever-popular A220 will be revamped to more than double over the next three years. There are three final assembly lines (FAL) in Mirabel, Canada, and Mobile, Alabama. These lines operate at a current nominal production rate of six aircraft per month respectively.

The European aircraft manufacturer plans to raise the prediction rate to 14 aircraft per month, 10 aircraft of which are to be produced on the two parallel lines in Mirabel. 

Airbus forecasts that the A220 program is expected to reach an operating profit for the first time in 2025, which is a milestone worth celebrating. With this in mind, Airbus is also seriously evaluating longer ranges or stretched versions of the A220 depending on the situation.

Airbus also notes that the relationship between players in the supply chain is crucial to maintain its integrity in the production line and customer service and; importantly to compete against Airbus. 

Airbus Canada CEO Benoit Schultz stated that: “We are where we should be today. Competitiveness of the supply chain is key, particularly at high rates.” 

Given that the A220 programme was a former Bombardier product, the majority of the aerostructure component on the A220 are outsourced. 

For instance, building the wings and mid-fuselage is carried out by Spirit Aerosystems.  Stelia Aerospace takes control of the cockpit and aft fuselage; Avic’s Shenyang Aircraft Corporation is building the forward, mid and aft fuselage sections.

And so the list goes on – which shows the diversity of players in the supply chain ecosystem. 

Newer Variants of the A220? 

Airbus has responded to many questions asking whether will there be a stretched A220, to which the manufacturer responded with “it’s a when not if” as Christian Scherer the former Chief Commercial Officer has put it.

The exact timing has to do with finance and the rivalry landscape between Airbus and Boeing. 

Currently, the popular A220-300 can carry 150 seats but is making a huge effort in raising the capacity to 160 passengers.

Airbus is aware that by having a stretched version, would cross into the A320neo line with approximately 175-180 seats, but could easily compete with the Boeing 737-8 boundary. 

The newer variants of the A220 are a double-edge sword, creating their own success, but at the same time a potential killer for the A320neo aircraft. In this day and age, where the A321neo is gaining ground.

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