A350 Line Opens As 777X Studies Progress

AIN Air Transport Perspective » October 29, 2012
A350 assembly line in Toulouse
Some 1,000 representatives from customers, suppliers, partners and government join Airbus employees in celebrating the inauguration of the A350 assembly line in Toulouse. (Photo: Airbus)
October 29, 2012, 11:00 AM

Airbus’s inauguration ceremony for the A350 final assembly line in Toulouse last Tuesday marked a key milestone in the company’s 40-year history of widebody production and the latest step in its pursuit of a market segment dominated by Boeing for the past decade and a half. More than 1,000 representatives from customers, suppliers, partners, along with elected officials and other invitees bore witness to the 800,000-sq-ft factory next to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in southwestern France, where Airbus houses the program’s first static test airframe.

Sized as an A350-900, the ground test unit sits at the final assembly line’s Station 40, where the company has assembled the fuselage and installed the wings and vertical tail plane. At the adjacent Station 50, Airbus has joined the fuselage of the first flight-test airplane­–also an A350-900–and plans to mate its wings and tail “in the coming weeks.” Last Monday Airbus rolled out the vertical tailplane for the first flyable A350 (MSN 1) from its Toulouse paint hall. The first A350 component to sport the Airbus livery, it stands some 33 feet tall and will join with the fuselage via what the company calls an innovative, lighter and more aerodynamic connection.

Plans call for the start of assembly of a third A350 XWB before year-end, first delivery in 2014 and a production rate “ramp up” to 10 aircraft per month by late 2018.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, signs continued to point to a launch of a new version of the 777 by that time. Speaking last Wednesday during his company’s third-quarter earnings call, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney referred to an entry into service “at the end of the decade or the beginning of the next decade” for the airplane now known as the 777X–widely seen as a direct competitor to Airbus’s A350-1000, scheduled for EIS in 2017.

Calling it a lower risk endeavor than, most notably, the 787-8, McNerney talked of “harvesting risk” the company has absorbed over the past decade.

“One of the options with [the 777X], and we are discussing this with some of our customers, is to put a composite wing and a new engine on the current airframe,” said McNerney. “Building a composite wing of this size would not have been thinkable a decade ago. We now know how to do that and I can’t think of anyone else who does. So that would be an example of harvesting 787 applied technology in a second-generation form, combining it with a current system…to come up with something pretty special.”

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keesje
on October 29, 2012 - 11:36am

"We now know how to do that and I can’t think of anyone else who does."

It seems underestimating the other guys has become symptomatic..

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OneCleverSpaniel
on October 29, 2012 - 6:53pm

...to come up with something pretty special... I see, so that's and old aircraft then with plastic wings.

Hmmm...think someone should roll out the drawings of an old tupolev design with 6 engines and send it to Mr. McNerney - then at the next press conference I would bet he comes up with a 777-6x!

I bet he doesent know how to use Catia (or Autocad for that matter) so why do Boeing put people like this at the front of a company, it beggars belief.

American engineering? just compare an awful looking Jeep to a Range Rover or Toureg not quite in the same league really.

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BoeingBeatsAirbus
on October 29, 2012 - 8:49pm

It's clear by your comment that you have little to no understanding of how dominate Boeing's 777 is and how big of a hill Airbus has to climb. There is far more to an airplane than what it's made out of. The 777 is a 17+ year old design and Airbus has yet to make a plane that can compete. The 777x will leap over Airbus's A350 XWB when it is introduced, even if the fuselage is aluminum. Finally, your comparison of how a car 'looks' in relation to how an airplane is built is all the proof anyone needs to know that you are clueless about airplane design or maintenance. Shall we even talk about how expensive a VW or Land Rover is to own? They may look nice (to you, that is a subjective opinion) but that doesn't mean they can perform. Stick to cars, you don't know anything about airplanes.

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Aspiring Aviator
on October 30, 2012 - 10:31am

That is a very good note to take into consideration. It truly is remarkable how dominant the design of the 777 is, even in today's markets. Alas, it will be interesting to see how successful the A350 performs. Will it dominate the long haul markets for the next decade, or not? We'll see...

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le bon vivant
on October 31, 2012 - 3:56am

"We now know how to do that and I can’t think of anyone else who does." This is what sets Boeing above the rest.
The 787 is built of a monocoque composite frame while the AB350 is made of composite pannels riveted on an aluminum frame.

Troughout aviation history, boeing has led and Airbus copied. The boeing 737 led, the A320 followed, The boeing 767 led AB 330 followed, The 747 led A380 followed, the 787 led AB350 followed.

As of now Airbus has no clue on how to build an aircraft with the economics of the 787-10 but believe me, whether they like it or not, they will have to follow after seeing the runaway success of this aircraft.

Now, one keesje and a cluelessSpaniel can dig that.

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Andy Dancer
on October 31, 2012 - 4:40am

Out of the blue, with no mention of Airbus? the spaniel seemed to start a lot of comments here.

777 - 17 ½ plus years... I see, and 1,350 ish orders.

The spaniel told me 558 orders and counting for the new 350 aircraft & yet to fly – seems like its going to do OK.

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