New Pilots

Airbus to Reduce A380 Output

2016 10 10

Airbus' confirmation in July that it would cut the production rate on its A380 superjumbo to just one aircraft per month in 2018 from 2.5 may lead to long-term changes for how airlines maintain the aircraft, but in the near-term, it is business as usual.

Despite Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier saying the cut would buy A380 program executives 2-3 more years to find new sales, many believe the most expensive program in commercial aviation history could grind to a halt within the next decade.

One of the drivers behind the cut is a lack of airline demand for the aircraft, with 13 carriers in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East taking the A380 since its entry into service in October 2007 with launch customer Singapore Airlines. As of September 2016, the A380 order book had a backlog of 125 aircraft, but the planned arrival of Boeing's 777X in 2020 -- along with carriers opting for smaller, more fuel-efficient Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s -- has hindered the program.

Despite its lackluster sales, MRO appropriations for the A380 are expected to be big, with Aviation Week's MRO Prospector forecasting that airlines will spend about US$1.1 billion maintaining and modifying the aircraft this year and US$2.2 billion annually in five years. The cost of maintaining its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 and Engine Alliance GP7000 powerplants is expected to be the biggest expense.

With some aircraft reaching 10 years old and a growing share of A380s entering the first D-check stage at around four years, a number of airline-affiliated MROs and independent maintenance providers have added to their capabilities to cover the aircraft.

Lufthansa Technik (LHT) has expanded its A380 maintenance network to include third-party services at domestic sites in Hamburg and Frankfurt along with a base maintenance center of excellence for the aircraft in Manila, Philippines.

The German MRO does not foresee any immediate changes to its A380 maintenance offering in the near-term. Stefan Sittart, head of network sales for aircraft base maintenance at LHT, says there could be new opportunities as some of mega-transports begin reaching the mature phase of their life cycles.

"Long-term, Lufthansa Technik will continue to offer nose-to-tail maintenance support services including but not limited to airframes, landing gear, components and engines. End-of-lease work will also become increasingly important," says Sittart.

Among LHT's base maintenance customers at its Philippines site is Australian carrier Qantas Airways, which operates 12 A380s. But it appears unlikely that Qantas will add mega-transports to its fleet. The airline confirmed in August it does not intend to take the remaining eight it has on order, calling its current fleet size adequate.

Asked what effect the production cut could have on the airline's maintenance planning, a Qantas spokesperson tells Inside MRO: "We are currently assessing what our long-term maintenance needs are, but we do have an agreement with Lufthansa Technik in the Philippines for our base maintenance while line work is done in Sydney."