Airbus this year is facing crucial decisions that will determine the shape of its widebody product line and could have a lasting impact on engine manufacturers. Changes could include an earlier-than-expected return of Pratt & Whitney as an independent player in the long-haul aircraft market.
The European manufacturer is facing increasingly pressing questions about all its long-haul aircraft: It will have to decide whether to reengine the A330, how to improve the A380 and where it is taking the A350 family. At the same time, R&D budgets are being reduced to more sustainable levels now that A350 efforts have peaked. “You have to look at the big picture. We are not going to keep investing at the same level,” says executive vice president of programs Tom Williams.
Airbus’s choices will affect the fate of other programs. The company is wary of having to work through two major modification programs at the same time. An upgraded A330 could also cannibalize the A350-800. The most pressing issue is whether to reengine the A330. “We have to make the A330 decision this year,” Williams makes clear. He believes the life of the current A330 can be extended to about 2018 at today’s rate of 10 aircraft per month. Airbus’s backlog of 255 aircraft would fill production capacity until 2016, and given continuing demand it is confident it can extend production by about two more years until a major upgrade would arrive.