Wednesday | 11 October, 2017 | 8:50 am


By Lynn Stanley

The bigger picture // A host of characters dominate the aerospace market’s trajectory



October 2017 - If the aerospace industry was a movie, a battle between industry giants, the rise of smart factories, an unprecedented demand for pilots and technicians, and robust backlogs would dominate the plot summary.

At the Paris Air Show in June, Boeing took the lion’s share of orders over Airbus for the first time since 2012. Boeing’s tally of orders and commitments totaled 571 new aircraft valued at $74.8 billion. Airbus came away with 346 new orders worth $42.2 billion. According to show officials, the numbers were nearly double that of the 2016 Farnborough Air Show.

Backlog bonanza

Boeing used the venue to leverage the official launch of its new 737 Max 10. The aircraft is projected to be the airframe builder’s most profitable single-aisle airplane due to efficiencies that will allow it to offer the market’s lowest seat costs.

However, total backlogs show Airbus retains its edge over Boeing. As of June 30, 2017, the backlog for Airbus stood at 6,771 jets—82 percent comprise the A320ceo/ neo narrow-bodies; while Boeing posted its backlog at 5,744—the 737 NG/MAX narrow body jets make up 78 percent.

Airplanes able to fly short- and medium-haul routes have created a global demand for single-aisle models like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. Less than 10 percent of sales at the Paris Air Show were for long-range twin-aisle airliners.

That said, Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. brought its MRJ regional jet to the Paris show for the first time, while China and Russia conducted maiden flights of new narrow-body aircraft in July. The two countries have entered a joint venture to build wide-body jets.

“Twenty years from now, I think there’ll be the big three manufacturers of Airbus, Boeing and China,” said Airbus Sales Chief John Leahy. “It would be hard for [other] countries to make billions of dollars of investments over decades to get the product line and support network up to scratch.”


Aerospace manufacturers will continue to look at ways to raise efficiency levels. Clean-sheet aircraft programs will be approximately 20 percent more fuel efficient than the jets they replace. Additive manufacturing, nearer-net-shape extrusions and forgings, and novel joining processes that reduce overall part count will take on central roles in the aerospace supply chain.

Research and advisory company Technavio states that the global aerospace additive manufacturing market is projected to grow at a rate of nearly 56 percent between now and 2020.

Companies like Arconic Investment Castings and Titanium Products are investing more heavily in metal powder production technologies for 3D printing. An ability to reduce material input, greater design freedom and speed to market make adoption of direct and hybrid additive manufacturing processes increasingly attractive.

Smart factories are expected to add $500 billion to the global economy in the next five years and will be primed to support a variety of new digital manufacturing processes geared to help aerospace manufacturers streamline even further.

Types of metals increasingly used for aerospace components—aluminum, titanium and beryllium—are expanding due to their ability to reduce the weight of jets.

Career opportunities

A key part of the aerospace supply chain are skilled workers. Deloitte’s 2017 global aerospace and defense sector outlook states that order backlogs and robust demand for new jets will remain high for commercial aircraft manufacturers, sustaining current record production levels.

As demand grows, consulting management company Oliver Wyman’s 2017 MRO survey found that executives from the maintenance, repair and overhaul industry are concerned about the loss of trained mechanics. Over the next 10 years, technicians eligible for retirement will outstrip the number of new mechanics entering the field by 9 percent in the U.S. alone.

According to the Aerospace Industries Association, the civil aviation industry anticipates “needing 480,000 new technicians in the next decade to meet the demand of producing 25,000 new aircraft entering the commercial fleet.”

Photo: Airbus S.A.S.

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