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Titanium use in airframes set to grow

Keywords: Tags  titanium, RTI International Metals, Timet, Titanium Metals, ATI, Allegheny Technologies, Dawne Hickton, James Buch Richard Harshman

ATLANTA — Despite delays and overly optimistic delivery projections for some major airliner programs, growing commercial aircraft demand should outweigh these setbacks, industry executives said this week.

Titanium demand for commercial airframes should increase to 91 million pounds in 2017 from 47 million pounds last year, or a compounded annual growth rate of 14 percent, Dawne S. Hickton, vice chairwoman, president and chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based RTI International Metals Inc., told attendees at the International Titanium Association (ITA) meeting in Atlanta.

While Hickton acknowledged that delivery forecasts for such titanium-critical programs as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 have fallen far behind projections, she said such factors as airlines’ need to replace inefficient aircraft and growing air travel in developing regions should overcome these setbacks.

Despite a "pause" in demand this year, titanium demand for aircraft engines will grow by more than 40 percent through 2018, according to James Buch, executive vice president of commercial at Dallas-based Titanium Metals Corp. (Timet).

Delays in some major programs have resulted in the requirement for up to 10,000 tonnes (about 22 million pounds) of titanium "moving to the right," or being postponed, he said. Included in this is about 4,500 tonnes connected with engines for the Boeing 787 and 3,000 tonnes with the Airbus A380.

Buch also noted that the Airbus A350 Extra Wide Body (XWB) airliner, at its projected full rate of production, will account for more than 4,000 tonnes of titanium usage annually.

Richard J. Harshman, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies Inc., said the outlook for defense titanium requirements—18 percent of the U.S. aerospace airframe market—is particularly challenging to predict due to the specter of budget sequestration at the end of the year and an "overall belt-tightening around the globe" in military spending.

The military sector today suffers from an "uncertainty of demand," with no long-term firm backlogs, in contrast to the eight-year backlog in commercial aerospace, Harshman said. Moreover, U.S. Defense Department’s procurement policy also leaves titanium at a disadvantage to other materials because choices are based only on comparative purchase price, not giving titanium credit for its superior life-cycle costs, he added.

The titanium buy weight of some airliners that consume large amounts of the metal has been falling over the life of these programs, Hickton noted. Content on the Boeing 787 airframe, for example, has declined to 180,000 pounds from 230,000 pounds in 2007, while titanium on the Airbus A350 XWB has been cut to 150,000 pounds from 250,000 pounds.

Consolidation in the supply chain, characterized by RTI’s $182-million acquisition this year of Remmele Engineering Inc., a New Brighton, Minn.-based machining and engineering company in the aerospace, defense and medical device markets, is likely to accelerate, she added.

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