More Headwinds for A350 as Fuselage Takes Shape

 - July 23, 2012, 12:15 PM
Workers in Toulouse guide the front fuselage section for the first flyable A350 in place. (Photo: Airbus)

Development of the Airbus A350XWB could lag by another month amid questions about problems with a machine in Broughton, UK, used to drill holes in the airplane’s composite wings.

Meanwhile, Airbus delivered the front fuselage for the first flyable A350XWB (MSN1) to the final assembly line in Toulouse. Already equipped with systems, the roughly 69-foot-long section arrived at Airbus’s main assembly site early last week from Saint-Nazaire, France, via Beluga transport aircraft.

Plans call for engineers to mount the front fuselage section in a giant assembly jig before they join it with the center and aft fuselage sections over the summer. Before they arrive at the final assembly line, the aircraft sections undergo systems equipage and pre-assembly at Airbus sites in the UK, Spain, France and Germany. Airbus transports all the major sections to the final assembly line via Beluga.

Now scheduled to introduce the A350-900 in mid-2014, Airbus expects the wing drilling problem—involving software used to control the robot that creates the holes for attaching composite wing panels to the underlying structure—to delay first wing delivery from Broughton to Toulouse from September to October, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said at this month’s Farnborough airshow. He stopped short of announcing another delay to first flight, however. “It’s too early to say because the assembly process is going very well—better than expected,” said Bregier.

“We have had some issues and we will continue to have issues until we deliver the aircraft to the customer,” added Bregier. “Yes, [the 787 and A380] programs were delayed by about three years and I can confirm that we have no intention to repeat these mistakes. The biggest lesson we can draw from the past is that we need to move from one step to the other of these big programs without rushing.”

To ensure sufficient systems “maturity,” Airbus plans to conduct what Bregier called a virtual first flight, on the ground with passengers and crew, before the end of this year. 

“So we’ll see how it develops, all these steps, and then we will be able to give you, say, more confidence on the [timing of] the first flight.”

Originally scheduled to enter service in the middle of next year, the A350-900 has so far suffered roughly a year of delays associated with so-called traveled work and the failure of certain suppliers to deliver parts on time.

Hesitant to point fingers, however, Bregier stressed the importance of close collaboration with risk-sharing partners to reach a common goal. “It would be easy for me to tell you this risk-sharing partner doesn’t do its job and this is why I have a problem on the wing…No, we are part of the same team and we have to move together collaboratively, which is to deliver a mature aircraft in 2014 and to ramp up production as planned today.”