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Airbus Can Meet Production Targets Despite Russian Titanium Constraints

Madhu Unnikrishnan

April 5th, 2022

Airbus A320 Assembly Line

Airbus’ plans to aggressively ramp up aircraft production are on track, despite new constraints on the global supply of Russian titanium, a critical metal for aerospace manufacturing.

The European airframer quashed rumors that its A320 and A350 production increases will be delayed by titanium-supply issues. “We continue to assess the impact of the current situation in detail, but we do not see any issue in the short to medium term,” an Airbus spokesperson said. “Regardless, we are accelerating our efforts to secure alternative sources of supply.”

Airbus previously indicated that it sourced as much as half of its titanium needs from Russia. It continues to buy the metal from the country. “Airbus is directly sourcing titanium from Russia as well as from other countries, and indirectly sourcing it from Tier 1 suppliers,” the spokesperson said. “This is done in accordance with all sanctions and applicable export control regulations in place.”

Airbus plans to increase production of its A320 family to 65 aircraft per month by the middle of next year, an aggressive target that analysts and even Air Lease Corp. Executive Chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy have questioned. Last year, analysts pointed to other supply chain problems, not least of which were staffing issues at the airframer’s suppliers.

But CEO Guillaume Faury stood by the company’s targets and said Airbus can deliver 20 percent more aircraft this year compared with last year. “We are ready,” he said in February before the conflict began.

Before the war in Ukraine, Russia provided up to 20 percent of the world’s raw titanium, and VSMPO-AVISMA is the world’s largest producer of the metal for the aerospace industry. Before the conflict, Boeing and VSMPO-AVISMA were in a joint venture to provide part of the U.S. airframer’s titanium requirements. But European, Japanese, and U.S. sanctions have prompted aerospace firms to avoid Russian supplies of the metal in order to comply with broader sanctions. China, Japan, Kazakstan, and the U.S. produce the balance of the world’s supply of titanium.

Earlier this year, Boeing CEO David Calhoun assured investors that the company’s supply of the metal was secure. “As long as the geopolitical situation stays tame, no problem,” he said on January 26. “If it doesn’t, we’re protected for quite a while, but not forever.”

But the company started diversifying its supply in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Boeing accelerated the process after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and has since suspended all titanium purchases from the country.

“Our inventory and diversity of titanium sources provide sufficient supply for airplane production and we will continue to take the right steps to ensure long-term continuity,” a Boeing spokesperson said. “As aerospace is a longer cycle business, we largely have longer-term agreements that bridge short-term supply issues, which give us priority and protection from the fluctuations in the market.”

Embraer sourced much of its titanium from Russia before the war broke out, raising questions about its ability to meet its delivery targets this year. But in a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission the Brazilian airframer said it had enough supplies for the near term.

“Embraer informs that there is no immediate concern over the availability of titanium in its supply chain, considering its strong current inventory position and the existing contracts for the provision of this material with companies in other countries,” the company said. “Embraer will continue to monitor its supply chain and to seek alternative sources.”

Madhu Unnikrishnan

April 5th, 2022

Photo credit: Airbus A320 Assembly Line Flickr / Edward Russell

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