While OEMs involved in airliner manufacturing and services would like to look forward to a fresh start in 2021, this year holds little promise for a so-called V-shaped recovery as the industry girds for the spike in Covid-19 cases over the winter. Still, new vaccines and more readily available testing has raised hopes that air travel can begin to pick up as confidence among the traveling public returns. But for the likes of Boeing, Airbus, and the many suppliers involved in their aircraft programs, a return by the end of the year to 2019 levels of sales and production activity apart from the 737 Max appears unlikely.
Rather, 2021 will hopefully bring with it some measure of stability following a 2020 campaign that saw the loss of tens of thousands of jobs throughout the aerospace industry. One of the biggest challenges for the airlines themselves will involve returning grounded airplanes to service, and the prospect of substantial new airplane orders seems distant.
For Boeing, of course, 2021 will herald the return of the Max, whose grounding in 2019 served to suppress production output even before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. In a drastic departure from plans to raise the 737’s peak rate of 57 a month to as many as 63, Boeing now sees 737 Max rates gradually increasing to 31 per month next year and modestly rising with any increased market demand thereafter. While Boeing narrowbody deliveries can do nothing but increase due to the 20-month grounding, widebody production will remain suppressed as Dreamliner production falls from 10 to just six per month and 777 output falls from five to two.
Airbus, meanwhile, will see production of its A330neo settle at two per month from 3.25 and A350 output to six from 10, reflecting an extended softening of demand for widebodies instigated by the pandemic. Conversely, it believes its rate of 40 A320s per month provides for the right balance between supply and demand. “There might be some small adjustment, but we will keep it for the second half of 2020 and entering into 2021,” said CEO Guillaume Faury, adding that a production ramp-up of the single-aisle “potentially could start in the second half of 2021,” and will “very likely” happen in 2022.