Airbus appears to have exhausted all its A350XWB development “buffer,” leaving designers and engineers with little margin for error as the company prepares the first A350-900 for its first flight and the model's delivery to launch customer Qatar Airways in mid-2013.
The manufacturer will have to compress the original 15-month flight-test program planned for the A350-900 into a 12-month exercise to accommodate an extension of the program's detailed design phase. The flight-test program will involve five airplanes-all but one of which will fly in 2012, according to the company. Plans to deliver the first A350-900 in the middle of 2013 remain unchanged, despite the fact that the company now has scheduled final assembly to start several months later than last planned.
Additional design work, involving aircraft sizing, the wing-root joint, the structure of the fuselage electrical network and fuselage damage tolerance, has depleted three months' worth of the “buffer” built into the schedule, according to the program update issued by the company on April 19. However, the timing of systems, cabin and powerplant development hasn't changed, according to Airbus. A spokesman told AIN that the company had built in a “very, very generous” 15-month period for flight tests, and that there is no overall delay to the A350XWB program, even though there have been some changes to the time frame for some tests.