We’ve all seen the pictures of Middle East Airlines’ shiny new A321neo, but Airbus hasn’t delivered 10,000 A320 Family aircraft. Not even close. So what are they playing at?
Don’t worry, they’re not fudging the numbers or cooking the books – when Airbus handed over the third A321neo from Middle East Airlines’ (MEA) order for eight examples on October 6, they hit a big milestone, but just not that big.
When an airline places a firm order with the European aerospace giant, Airbus enters that order into its backlog and assigns the aircraft a manufacturer’s serial number (MSN), also known as a construction number or a line number, to that order. That construction number links the order to the airliner and tells the manufacturer which carrier the aircraft is destined for and the specifications that airline wants, even when it’s still an anonymous fuselage which has yet to enter the final assembly line, let alone receive wings and a tailplane.
This works great until an airline – such as Qatar Airways, who began cancelling aircraft from its 2011 order for 50 A320neos in July 2016 – decides it doesn’t want the airliners it has splashed the cash on. When the order is pulled, so is the aircraft and Airbus will just move to the next narrowbody in its A320 order book.
Airbus may have delivered the A320 Family jet with the construction number 10,000, but what that doesn’t take into account is about 460 cancelled orders during the A320 Family’s production run. It’s for the same reason that Airbus celebrated the delivery of the 1,500th A330 Family aircraft on September 21, yet the construction number for that airframe – Delta Air Lines A330-900, N407DX – is 1957.
So when will Airbus deliver its 10,000th narrowbody, I hear you ask?
Based on Airbus’ September 2020 orders and deliveries update and some maths in the Airliner World office this morning, the Toulouse-based airframer had delivered 9,529 A318s, A319s, A320s and A321s up to the end of September. During the first six days of October alone, airlines from around the world received a further 14 single-aisle jets, so that MEA A321neo, T7-ME3, is around the 9,543rd A320 Family jet to have been handed over. We’d like to be more precise, but we don’t know what times on October 6th Airbus also delivered jets to Spirit Airlines, IndiGo and Vistara as well as Lebanon’s MEA.
Between MSN 10,000 and the actual 10,000, there are around 460 aeroplanes. Things are currently up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic, but over the past three months, Airbus has been producing an average of 42 aircraft a month. At that rate, the company will likely reach five figures in September 2021 should production levels stay where they are now. But this time last year, the company was on a roll with its final assembly lines in Germany, France, China and the US churning out 105 of the single-aisle jets in December 2019 alone. If the global pandemic subsided, allowing Airbus to get production back up to full speed, we might even see it hit the big 10k much sooner.