It's probably the fuel consumption. At the European group Airbus, the world's largest manufacturer of passenger aircraft, business is running smoothly again after serious setbacks during the corona pandemic. "Our customers need every aircraft they can get," said Gerd Weber, head of Airbus Operations, Airbus' civil aircraft construction in Germany, at the Hamburg Business Journalists' Club and the Luftfahrt-Presse-Club on Thursday evening. A number of machines that were mothballed during the pandemic have now been reactivated due to the revival in aviation business, including a number of the world's largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380: "Wherever possible, the airlines want to have new and more energy-efficient models, especially because of the high energy prices and foreseeable stricter regulations for climate protection.”
Airbus is therefore ramping up production again, especially for its most important products, the machines in the A-320 product family. Until the start of the pandemic in early 2020, Airbus delivered around 60 A319, A320 and A321 aircraft in their various variants every month. In 2020, production was reduced to 40 machines per month, currently it comprises around 50 jets per month. By 2025, the so-called "rate" at Airbus for the production of the A-320 family should increase to 75 machines a month, Weber said. The large-capacity jets are also getting closer to the level they were before the crisis: the A330 would again be delivered three machines a month from the end of 2022, and the much more modern A350 would be six machines a month from the beginning of 2023, said Weber.
Nicole Dreyer-Langlet, head of research and technology at Airbus Operations, said the latest "neo"-generation aircraft used around a quarter less kerosene than the average for the total aircraft fleet in service today. “To date, these machines, such as the A321neo, have only had a market share of around 20 percent. So the potential for us is significant.”
The optimistic forecasts and the good order intake at Airbus are surprising, because the pandemic is ultimately not over. China, for example, is still pursuing a strict zero-Covid policy and is rigorously sealing off cities with a population of over a million, even with minor outbreaks of the virus. Access to the country for air travelers is still severely limited, including domestic air traffic. However, Airbus is now getting more orders for new machines than are being delivered, said Weber. Airbus currently has around 6,800 orders on hand for the models in the A320 family and the smaller A220 series. There are also around 210 A330 and 415 A350 aircraft.
The Hamburg location in particular should benefit from the upswing at Airbus in the coming years. The Airbus shipyard in Finkenwerder is the Group's most important plant for the development, segment production and final assembly of machines from the A320 family. Most of the machines in this product group come from the Hanseatic city. The market entry of the newly developed long-haul model A321XLR with a range of 8700 kilometers is also being promoted there. The first A321XLR is scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of 2024, Weber said. With the A321XLR, Airbus is installing an additional tank in the fuselage for the first time in order to increase the range. This required extensive intervention in the design of the aircraft.
Because of the tank, the fuselage plays a key role not only in the A321XLR, but also in future Airbus machines that are to be powered by hydrogen. During the pandemic, Airbus reorganized its factories in France and Germany. The production of the rear fuselage segments, which was previously located in Germany at the subsidiary Premium Aerotec in Augsburg, is now the responsibility of the newly founded subsidiary Airbus Aerostructures. This includes the plant in Hamburg as a center as well as the plants in Bremen, Nordenham and Stade. Airbus Atlantic will supply the front fuselage segments from France.
There was a month-long labor dispute at Airbus in Germany in 2021 over the development of Airbus Aerostructures and the future of Premium Aerotec. Airbus Aerotec took off on July 1st. "There were tough and interesting negotiations with the social partners," said André Weber, head of Airbus Aerostructures. With the new structure for fuselage assembly, deliveries and production in Airbus' complex modular system are now fully integrated, more efficient and more transparent than before.
During the pandemic, Airbus cut 2,300 full-time jobs in Germany as part of the “Odyssey” rationalization program, around 1,000 of them in Hamburg. This year, in turn, 1,000 new employees were hired as part of the expansion of production, and next year there will be another 1,000, mainly in Hamburg. The number of employees at Airbus in Finkenwerder thus rises to more than 15,000. In the course of "Odyssey", especially early retirement regulations and severance payments were negotiated, said Weber: "There were no operational layoffs."
Most of the employees who are newly hired are younger than the previous ones. And they have to adapt to new and updated job descriptions, from skilled workers to engineers. With a view to the complex path to climate-neutral flying - with more energy efficiency, synthetic fuels and ultimately hydrogen - the development, construction and later operation of aircraft must be "completely rethought", says Nicole Dreyer-Langlet: "We are going to comprehensive invest in the promotion of young people. We need a new generation of engineers.”