Airbus Needing A380 Buyers Pushes Customers Into Earlier Slots

Airbus Group NV is seeking to persuade some buyers for its A380 superjumbo that they should take the double-decker earlier in order to fill delivery slots that remain open as the plane struggles to find customers.

The planemaker wants to hand over 30 A380s next year, and Airbus has begun cutting metal for A380s for delivery in late 2015, building early sections such as center wing boxes. Advancing clients for a couple of planes should ensure Airbus meets a goal that’s central to the program breaking even in 2015.

“At the moment we’ve kept the slots open, and we’re working with John to try and fill them,” Tom Williams, the head of programs at Airbus, said at the Farnborough Air Show, referring to John Leahy, the sales chief at Toulouse, France-based Airbus.

The A380 has become an increasingly tough sell for Airbus, with no buyers so far at the air expo, where a test aircraft participated in the daily flight displays. Getting customers for the largest and most expensive civil aircraft to shift schedules is more challenging than on smaller single-aisle planes that have a broad customer base and easily change hands.

Special Outfits

Customers of the A380 have typically used the aircraft as a flagship model, filling it with technology and elaborate cabins that are complex to build and need longer lead-times to produce. That makes it harder for Airbus to move forward buyers. Airbus must know who the buyer is about nine months before any delivery to complete the cabin work.

Airbus would be unable to take on entirely new airlines for the 2015 slots because fitting out a new cabin for the first time is more difficult than an existing configuration.

Williams said one challenge in getting customers to move forwards would be getting the financing in place on time. An A380 costs $414.4 million at list price and funding the plane can involve several institutions.

Dubai-based Emirates, the largest airline by international traffic, has been the planemaker’s most loyal buyer, coming back several times with repeat orders that now represent 140 jets, almost half the total volume. The airline ordered another 50 in November. Neither Emirates nor any other existing customer has yet confirmed it’ll take the 2015 planes.

Amedeo, the leasing company that ordered 20 A380s in February, has said it would be willing to take the planes, though Williams said he won’t allow aircraft to be built unless he’s sure they’ll find a place in an airline’s fleet.

“We haven’t changed production plans, though there will come a point where we decide to freeze those slots if we don’t fill them,” Williams said.

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