Farnborough Air Show

Airbus to woo carriers with A350 extras

 - November 16, 2006, 11:50 AM

New Airbus boss Christian Streiff yesterday issued a firm declaration of his intent to restore the company’s market credibility by unveiling the long-awaited revamped A350, known now as the A350 XWB. Although not an industrial launch, the announcement offered the first detailed look at the airplane, Airbus’ latest answer not only to the Boeing 787s, but to the 777-200ER and -300ER.

“I intend to seek approval for a program launch from both our shareholders in the early days of October,” said Streiff. “That doesn’t mean at all we are creating another delay in the program. During this summertime, all the engineering and development teams are going further without any stop, and we will maintain the entry-into-service date of the new aircraft in 2012.”

Streiff met with ILFC chairman and outspoken A350 customer and critic Steven Udvar Hazy on Monday morning and reported a “long, positive and tough discussion.” Apparently finished with his analysis of the circumstances that led to the current crisis at Airbus, however, Streiff appeared uncomfortable talking about the chain of events that saw him take the reigns at Airbus from Gustav Humbert.

“I won’t tell you what went wrong; I don’t care about it,” said Streiff bluntly. “I have no time to dig into this. I don’t think it’s really so useful. I tried to learn the lessons of the story in terms of organizing correctly, in terms of getting this company [acting as] one corporation, really one company…no nations, a real European integration.”

Achieving those aspirations should go a long way toward meeting the more tangible and critical goal of certifying the A350 XWB [Extra Wide Body] on schedule. Trailing the development of the rival Boeing 787 by some four years, the A350 can ill afford the kind of problems the A380 has endured if Airbus wants to meet its mid-2012 target date for certification.

In any case, Airbus hopes customers will believe the A350 XWB worth the wait. To encompass three variants, the 270-passenger A350 XWB-800, the 314-passenger XWB-900 and the 350-passenger XWB-1000, the new family would cover Airbus’ entire offering between the A320 line and the A380, effectively spelling the end of the four-engine A340 by the time the -1000 reaches the market in 2014. Scheduled for first flight in 2011, the program would see the A350-900 enter service in mid-2012 and the A350-800 in early 2013.

Airbus COO customers John Leahy read a laundry list of benefits of the airplane that, if they come to fruition, should silence critics such as Hazy. Starting with the cabin, the new A350 features a 12-inch wider cross section than the A330 and two inch wider windows. Comfort features include a maximum cabin altitude of 6,000 feet, a 20-percent humidity level and an air flow management system that adapts to passenger load. The nine-abreast cabin configuration would allow for 17.5-inch seat width in “high-efficiency” economy and 19.25 inches in an eight-abreast layout.

The airplane’s carbon fiber wing will see a 3-degree increase in sweep, to 33 degrees, accommodating a speed of Mach .85. New engines under development by Rolls-Royce and ranging in thrust from 75,000 pounds to 95,000 pounds would deliver a 2-percent fuel consumption improvement over the 787 and 5 percent lower maintenance costs. To become the sixth variant of the Trent series, the engine platform would center on a three-shaft architecture unique to all large Rolls-Royce engines. Airbus also plans to offer a second, unidentified, engine type.

Although Airbus does not plan to make the fuselage out of composites exclusively, it would employ so-called black metals. Overall, the airplane would consist of 45 percent composites and 17 percent aluminum lithium.   

Using a cockpit identical to that of the A380, the flight deck in the A350 XWB would feature head-up displays, dual standby instrument system, vertical display, an onboard information system, brake to vacate and onboard airport navigation systems.

Performance specifications show that the A350-800 would fly 270 passengers 8,500 nm, compared with the 787-8’s 7,900-nm limit at 242 passengers. Meanwhile, the A350-900 would fly 314 passengers 8,500 nm–34 more passengers at the same range as the 787-9. Meanwhile, the 777-200ER flies 301 passengers only 7,700 nm. The real advantage versus the 777 would lay with the A350-900’s economics, which, according to Leahy would yield a 25-percent operating seat-cost benefit over the 777-200ER. The A350 XWB-1000 would hold 15 fewer seats in standard configuration than the 365-seat 777-300ER, but would fly as much as 700 nm farther.

A further A350-900R version promises to give the new airliner even longer legs. The family will also run to an A350-900F freighter.