In many ways, these are the best of times for
airplane makers such as Boeing Co., Chicago, and France's
Their order books are bulging, especially for
such much-anticipated new models as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and
Airbus' A380 Superjumbo.
But such innovation and sales success has
come at a cost, most notably delays in getting the planes off
As of mid-March, 892 orders had been placed
for the 787, making the plane-the first large commercial
jetliner to feature an all-composite fuselage-Boeing's
fastest-selling model. Originally scheduled to enter service in
May 2008, delays have pushed deliveries back to mid-2009.
Delays to the A380 have created turmoil in
the boardroom of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence
& Space Co. NV (EADS), which had to contend with a series
of cancellations or postponements. When the A380 made its first
commercial flight last October from Singapore to Sydney with
Singapore Airlines Ltd., deliveries were running two years
late. Airbus blamed the complexity of cabin wiring, the high
degree of customizing, and other production challenges as
For Boeing, one of the key reasons for delays
has been a lack of highly engineered fasteners. These shortages
are now becoming less severe, Boeing said, but only for the
first batch of planes.
"Fasteners are finally within a manageable
level on the near-term airplanes," a Boeing spokeswoman said.
"We are working on this same issue on the other airplanes."
Boeing produces several plane models, but the
problem has been most acute with the 787 because it's a
completely new design, with many logistics and new parameters
to work out with suppliers.
Boeing is quick to point out that it isn't
just the Dreamliner, and Boeing that must contend with the
shortage of available fasteners.
"The aerospace industry as a whole is facing
constraints due to capacity issues with fastener
manufacturers," the spokeswoman said.
It's a challenge that could exist for some
time. Boeing is now predicting world airlines will order more
than 27,000 new long-haul and regional planes in the next 20
years, a source close to the company who attended a recent
Boeing presentation said. Some 45 percent of those orders are
expected to come from North America, 24 percent from Europe and
29 percent from the Asia Pacific region.
Yet the fastener shortage doesn't appear to
be a major concern for Airbus.
"Airbus is having no problems with fastener
deliveries," an Airbus Americas spokeswoman said. "The supply
of these types of parts is the best it has ever been."
While she declined to elaborate, a source
with close connections to Airbus suggested the European
aircraft maker has been able to avoid shortages by building up
inventory in the long run-up to the delivery of its first A380
aircraft. The delays gave Airbus the luxury of having more time
to secure the fasteners.
Airbus is also believed to source a lot of
its fasteners from Europe, particularly from LISI Group (Link
Solutions for Industry) in Belfort, France. Meanwhile, Boeing
sources its fasteners from many different suppliers, but the
two leading ones are Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc. and Precision
Castparts Corp., Portland, Ore., the source said. In a marked
contrast from what is occurring in North America, at least one
aerospace fastener manufacturer in Europe is actually seeing a
shortage of orders, the source added.
Nevertheless, the source close to Boeing
suggested that once production is fully ramped up on the A380,
the shortage of fasteners could finally hit Airbus.
"If you look at the size of the A380, in
fastener consumption, it's equivalent to 10 (Boeing) 737s. And
then when the new A350 gets online, that could put more demand
on the fastener manufacturers. This cycle is going on for a
long time," the source said.
The Airbus A350, another long-range,
wide-body aircraft, is under development and is scheduled to
enter service in 2013.