Production Delays in the Airbus A380

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Introduction

As the biggest passenger plane ever built, Airbus A380 was a project that would take the aviation industry to a higher level. Many airlines had already booked the new Airbus A380 meaning that they had planned for its integration of in-flight activities in relation to services provided to customers. The prospect of Airbus A 380 unique abilities and services excited many people in the aviation industry leading to many orders by flight companies. Amid the excitement, there came the unexpected news that there would be a production delay for Airbus 380. This announcement was followed by more production delays leading to disappointments and cancellation of supplies. These production delays had a significant effect on the aviation industry where several companies were adversely affected. While the effects were more adverse for Airbus Company in relation to its clients, some companies benefited from the whole issue. An example of a company that benefited both, directly and indirectly, was Boeing. This paper discusses the causes of Airbus A380 delays and the consequences that these delays had.

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Wiring problems are perceived to be the main cause of production delays for Airbus A380. This can be easily understood considering there are over 1200 functions to control the plane due to its unique design. This takes about 98000 wires and about 40000 connectors. On top of this, the digital system itself has as high as 500,000 wires all of which need to be synchronized to diverse computer systems found in different countries. This problem has even be compounded by the fact that different parts of the plane are manufactured in at least four different locations necessitating transportation via ships to a final assembly point in Toulouse, France. While engineers in a country like Germany for example used one version of CAD to design a part, engineers in France used another version to design their part. This caused a loss of information during the compilation process of these versions.

This created a big problem when it came to the wiring stage. There was the need to effect changes in fuselage sections made in Germany. Besides, the company undertook to use aluminum instead of copper in its wiring. This was intended to reduce the weight of the aircraft during design. According to Mike Jahadi, senior manager of CAD/CAM integration at Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company, the aluminum wire used would have about a 50% larger cross-section. The problem created by this is that there is an increased stiffness in the harnesses hence it becomes harder to manage tight spaces. This consideration was not incorporated during the Airbus A380 design causing significant problems.

Although the company has attributed delays to the long 530 kilometers of wiring in each of the aircraft, other problems could have led to these delays. For example, some analysts in the aviation industry have argued that the Airbus A380 was found to be about 5.5 more tonnes than it was intended. This necessitated re-design to reduce this weight leading to delays. Other people have speculated that Airbus delays were not real delays in the first place. This is because the company may have underestimated the complex process involved in designing such kind of an aircraft. The company was not therefore in a position to give accurate information to customers as it concerns delivery of the new aircraft.

Above this, it is widely understood that there were problems and conflicts as concerns the design and the production of A380 in the Airbus management. Many people have argued that there is significant doubt if the problems with the company were mostly technical, managerial, or political.

After completion of wiring for the first plane, Airbus noted this as a significant step and started developing a long-term solution to wiring problems. In this regard, Airbus developed a single platform to be used by all manufacturing sites mainly between plants in Germany as well as in France. The 26th plane onwards was produced on this platform. The company has 16 different production sites in four different countries. As discussed earlier, wiring problems started when it was realized that parts produced in Germany could not be compiled into other Airbus A380 parts. Experts have blamed this occurrence on the company’s failure to use sophisticated 3D design tools in Germany similar to those used in Spain and France.

In any organization, good governance comes from its top management. In trying to get a permanent solution to the challenges bedeviling it, Airbus undertook changes in its program management. Besides, Airbus management took the initiative of introducing a new set of design tools meant to be used throughout all stations. This was intended to bring in uniformity and quality. Design tolls that were adopted included CatiaV4, CIRCE, and GILDA. This created a need for training of personnel involved in design especially in stations that were not using these tools like in Germany. All design and other activities would be monitored from all locations at the same time with frequent reviews and the necessary adjustments made on time.

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Effects of the Delay

Any credible company should have a risk management plan set in place. Many companies however fail to integrate this important strategy in their operations. Airbus Company found itself in such a situation. With no clear set strategy to cushion itself from such an eventuality, the delays had adverse effects on Airbus Company. First, there have been significant cancellations by many flight companies, which are a direct result of production delays. One such company was FedEx, which canceled its order of ten planes valued at over $3 billion. FedEx instead chose to give the tender to Airbus’ rival Boeing. On top of this, a number of flight companies have been skeptical to place new orders of Airbus A380. This has led to a reduction of profits for Airbus Company apart from losses. For the first time in six years, Airbus orders dropped below deliveries in 2009. The effect of delays was even made worse by an economic crisis, which has been affecting businesses in the global scene. With no visible solution for this problem, the company embarked on a program to lay off more than 10,000 of its workers to cut expenses. Even though the company remains optimistic that there will be no further delays, there are still millions of dollars that the company may be forced to pay in form of penalties due to the delays. This will, in turn, hurt the company further.

Besides, the credibility of Airbus has been tarnished due to production delays. Doubts have been raised on the design that incorporates aluminum wiring instead of copper, which has on many occasions failed when used domestically. This design could therefore compromise the safety of passengers. Above this, failing to incorporate a common approach while designing parts in diverse locations has made people ask questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of Airbus management. Likewise, the management can be accused of failing to properly project the challenges faced when implementing such a project as the A380. This could have enabled the company to give accurate information to customers as concerns the delivery of orders. A company that designs and produces aircraft where the safety of passengers is of utmost importance is expected to perform better in these areas. Because of these effects, airbus shares slumped significantly following delay problems.

Airbus delays have not just been felt at the company alone; many other companies have been affected due to these delays. Many airline companies have associated their poor financial performance with airbus delays. Many of these airlines make plans to accommodate and place new orders, which keep delaying. There are even financial expenses when these orders were canceled. Planning is one of the most important key aspects in any business, uncertainties that come as a result of delays in orders compromise a company’s ability to plan effectively. It even seems better for such companies affected with delays to have gone for alternatives instead of relying on orders that are not delivered on time.

Due to the challenges that were posed by the Airbus A380 project, considerable programs were also affected. An example of this was a delay in the supply of A400M military aircraft by the Airbus Company to several NATO states in Europe. Expenses had been incurred in the project of which a significant amount was lost. Anxiety is also created because of such delays. This can easily create a chain where business and contract partners are not able to help and cooperate with companies and organizations that have been affected by these delays.

Conclusion

Airbus A380 was an ambitious project that has delivered unique aircraft to the aviation industry. Failure by the Airbus management to project the difficulties associated with such a project prevented the company from giving accurate information to customers. Moreover, failure to coordinate and monitor design and production activities at all manufacturing stations created an unforeseen problem of the wiring leading to delays. It is important for companies like Airbus to learn and rectify similar circumstances that can lead to such delays. This is especially considering the sensitivity in the aviation industry.

Works Cited

Aerospace news, Airbus A380 delay, 2007, Web.

Aviation week, Airbus Expects Sharp Order Drop In 2009, Web.

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Congressional Research Service, Airbus Industrie: An Economic and Trade Perspective, U.S, Library of Congress, 1992.

David, R, “Airbus will lose €4.8bn because of A380 delays”, 2006 London: The Times, Web.

Davis, S, Wiring Design Faulted for Airbus A380 Production Delays, ED Online ID #14634, Power Blog, 2007.

Dogfight, M, The Transatlantic Battle over Airbus, Praeger Publishers, 1982.

Heppenheimer, T.A, Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation, John Wiley, 1995.

Kenneth, W,”What Grounded the Airbus A380?” dalyst, 2006, Web.

Kevin, D, “Survey – Europe Reinvented: Airbus has come of age”, Financial Times, Web.

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The Air Bus Saga, Bad to Worse for Airbus as A380 Crisis Effects other projects, 2006, Web.

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