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OM in the News: Pain in Boeing and Airbus’ Supply Chains

January 18, 2018

Boeing and Airbus both built more jets last year than ever (763 and 718, respectively), but not enough to ease supply line strain as orders boom. The delivery frenzy has been a boon to both plane makers, lifting profit and share prices. “But it also has strained manufacturing and supply lines around the world,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 16, 2018).

Airbus and Boeing have already struggled at times to get planes out the door because of a lack of seats, toilet doors, and even engines. Airbus fell short of its target of building at least 200 A320neo planes last year because of lingering engine supply issues. The A320neo is the latest version of Airbus’ best-selling narrowbody jet. It and Boeing’s latest 737s have become the workhorses of both legacy and budget carriers because of their size, fuel savings and versatility. Airbus had 30 planes waiting for engines at year-end, and won’t commit to higher output of the plane until it has monitored supplier reliability for several more months.

Boeing and Airbus ended the year with a combined backlog of 13,129 planes, or 9 years of production at current output levels. To cope, both firms have promised to build even more planes this year—further stretching factories around the world that are already running at full tilt.

Supply chain tightness has spurred supplier consolidation to gain scale and become more financially resilient to afford the investments in production capacity Airbus and Boeing require. United Technologies last year agreed to acquire aircraft equipment maker Rockwell Collins. Rockwell in April closed a $6 billion acquisition of cabin interior specialist B/E Aerospace. French supplier Safran SA is expected to soon close its purchase of seat maker Zodiac Aerospace SA.

Classroom discussion questions:
1. What can Airbus and Boeing do, if anything, to exert better control over suppliers?

2. What do they need to do to reduce the backlog?


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