Aviation sector flies into Farnborough at cruising speed

By Delphine Touitou, AFP

FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom — Aircraft makers gathering for the Farnborough air show this week look to build on already robust passenger plane sales, and Airbus may use the event to launch an upgrade of its A330 jet. “Manufacturers are showing particularly high order books,” equal to more than eight years of plane production, noted Alain Guillot, an aerospace analyst at consultants AlixPartners. But the biennial Farnborough International Air Show, southwest of London, could see a slowdown in orders compared with previous record years, even though the industry is far from threatened.

The U.S. group Boeing, which typically goes head-to-head with its European rival Airbus at Farnborough, forecast Thursday that global passenger numbers would grow by 5 percent annually over the next 20 years.

Boeing said airlines would need almost 37,000 new planes over the same period to meet the rising demand — suggesting that some spectacular orders could be unveiled between now and 2034. According to Guillot, the sector is at a mature stage regarding aircraft development programs.

In the absence of truly new technologies or revolutionary materials — such as light-weight carbon composites used in new fuel-efficient planes — the launch of a brand new passenger jet is not envisaged before five to seven years. This has left Airbus and Boeing to modernize current models, which they are doing with their respective medium-haul A320 and 737 planes. Brazil’s Embraer has meanwhile launched the E2, a new version of its regional E-jets series, which could see new orders this week. Airbus Engine Upgrade

Regarding modernization of long-haul planes, Boeing launched in November the 777X, a new version of its jumbo that seats between 350 and 450 passengers. Sector watchers are now looking to see if Airbus will proceed with the A330neo, providing the long-standing A330 with a more fuel-efficient engine. Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier last week said a decision to re-engine the A330 would be made “before the end of the year,” and the chance of an announcement is on the industry’s radar at Farnborough. In service since 1993, Airbus has sold about 1,300 A330s, of which the vast majority are still in service. It is thought that the A330neo could potentially sell more than 1,000 units, according to Bregier. Addison Schonland of U.S. consultants AirInsights believes the launch of the A330neo would be a good response to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. “Airbus can price the A330neo far below the 787 and keep its customers happy,” he told AFP.

“For instance we think the A330neo could provide about 75 percent of the performance of the 787 at 50 percent of the price. Of course this makes it attractive, plus it’s lower risk because it has a lot less high technology.” Even without the neo model, Airbus can count on its A350, due to enter service at the end of the year, and expected to make flypasts at Farnborough.