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It has been a slow start to what will be a record production year.

(The latest figures we have are to the end of January.)

2014 will be another record production year though it might not be a record year in terms of the order intake. Deliveries started well in January with a total of 84 which is a new January record, but the month of January typically has the lowest number of deliveries of any month in the year so a new record is actually a good start. It also meant that there was a new January record for engine installs.

The previous January delivery record was set in 2012 with a total of 75 so the figure this time around is nine aircraft more. Even if the number does seem a little low, it is a good start. There were 64 single-aisle deliveries, two more than last January, and 20 widebody deliveries which is eight more than last year. In January 2012 when the last January record was set, there were 55 single-aisle deliveries, nine fewer than this time, and 20 widebody deliveries which is the same number as this year.

What the industry has seen over the past few years is a low delivery total at the start of the year with numbers building through February and March and peaking at the end of the year. Last year, for example, there were 74 deliveries in January and 119 in March. That turned out to be the largest number of deliveries in a single month right up to December when there were 132.

Production rates this year are not going to rise by very much though. There are a few rate increases; the 737 rate goes from the current 38 per month to 42 per month in the first half of this year; the 777 rate is 8.3 per month and the 787 rate is now 10 per month. The Airbus A320 Family rate stays on 42 per month, moving to 44 p/m in late 2015. But the Airbus delivery total for this year will be boosted by first deliveries of the A350-900.

When it comes to orders, the January intake was relatively low. January is not always the best of months for orders and it was perhaps unlikely that the order momentum of the last few months of last year could have been expected to continue into this year.

There were orders for 57 single-aisle aircraft in January, 344 fewer than last December. In addition, seven widebodies were ordered which is the lowest January intake since 2010, when there were none. The aircraft manufacturers don't expect a repeat of 2013 when it comes to orders and the January intake this year is a long way behind the intake of 142 aircraft in January last year, and the 276 intake in January 2012. But orders are not expected to collapse either. While Airbus and Boeing have been tight-lipped about the possible number of aircraft they expect to be ordered this year, they are probably not particularly concerned either. Their respective backlogs are enormous, almost to the extent that some slowing of the order intake will make very little difference to the amount of work that they have in hand.

One manufacturer who was happy was Bombardier. A Middle-East customer firm ordered 16 CSeries jets and took options on another 10. This was a $1.6 billion deal and it took the CSeries backlog to 198 aircraft. But it is a measure of how low the order intake was when one realises that the CSeries had the second largest order intake of any program during the month.

Fewer orders than deliveries did impact the backlog. Eight single-aisles were cancelled in January which contributed to the large commercial jet backlog dropping by 28 aircraft. The records set in December last year for both the single-aisle and the widebody backlog still stand. The single-aisle backlog is currently 15 aircraft lower than at the start of this year and there are 13 fewer widebodies on backlog.

With both the Airbus and Boeing backlogs lower than at the start of this year, Bombardier emerged as the only manufacturer to have a gain in January. Rival manufacturers are quick to point out that the Canadian manufacturer's backlog has gained 50 aircraft in the last 12 months, whereas the current Airbus backlog is up 757 aircraft and Boeing's backlog is up 734. However, there is still no change to the COMAC C919 backlog and there has also been no change to the Irkut MS-21 backlog for some time.

While the aircraft backlog dropped in January, the engine manufacturers are in a somewhat different position. For the first time the number of large civil jet engines on firm order went over the 20,000 mark. By the end of the month there were exactly 20,070 engines on firm order and this also happens to be a new engine order book record. The number of single-aisle engines on firm order increased by 128 and is now at a new high. The number of widebody engines on order dropped by 30 during the month and the current figure is the second largest.

During January there were orders for 246 engines, 16 cancellations, and 170 installs. This is, of course, completely at odds with the smaller number of aircraft orders than aircraft deliveries but this is why the engine companies are really rather optimistic about the order intake in 2014 - it is because customers with previously ordered aircraft are starting to sign their engine orders. In January, for example, Lion Air finalised an engine order for 120 CFM56-5Bs destined for 60 previously ordered A320s.

Last year there were orders for 3,187 new large commercial jets and 5,054 jet engines which is roughly one and a half engines for every aircraft. A large number of aircraft were ordered without engine selections. What the engine manufacturers are excited about now is the potential for more engine orders than could possibly be needed for the aircraft that might be ordered this year. What they are looking at are the 1,460 aircraft already on firm backlog order but without engine selections.

These aircraft will need a total of 2,940 engines and some of the engine orders will be firmed up this year. The big winners will be CFM and Pratt & Whitney: A total of 1,942 LEAP-1A or PW1100G engines will be needed for the A320neo Family aircraft on order without engine selections, and another 374 V2500 or CFM56-5B engines will be needed for the A320ceo Family aircraft which are on backlog but also without engine selections. GE and Rolls-Royce will be competing for the 532 engines that will be needed for the 266 787 Dreamliners still without engine selections.

So, while the aircraft manufacturers could end up with fewer aircraft orders this year than last year, for the engine manufacturers there is the very real possibility of having more engine orders than last year as they finalise orders for previously ordered aircraft.

They are also looking to have a record production year, on the back of a record year for the aircraft manufacturers. They already have one record this year: the 170 installs in January is a record for the month of January.


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Philip Abbott,
Editor & Publisher.