Airbus is still aiming at a first-half 2014 entry into service for the new A350XWB twin-aisle twinjet, with executive vice president and program head Didier Evrard conceding that the schedule is “tight, but feasible.” In late May, he said the immediate challenge was to complete the first airframe for ground testing and overseeing the supply chain.
With total orders for the three A350 variants standing at 548 at the beginning of June, Airbus hopes to book 30 overall this year. With such a backlog, chief operating officer for customers John Leahy said his principal challenge is to find production slots, including for the top-of-the-line A350-1000, for which no orders have been taken since 2008 and for which service-entry has been delayed until 2017.
Nevertheless, Leahy declared himself to be “pretty comfortable” with the A350-1000’s sales prospects against Boeing’s planned 777X variants. “[They] started talking about [the upgraded model] only when the A350 came out. They know the 777-300ER doesn’t compete with the -1000,” which is fully booked until late in this decade. Airbus claims a 600-nm range and 25-percent fuel-burn/passenger advantage over the current 777-300ER.
The order book comprises 118 A350-800s, 368 -900s, and 62 -1000s–the latter being for Asiana Airlines, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways (which has retained orders for 12 for delivery from 2017after having cancelled 13 further examples), and Qatar Airways. At last month’s [June] International Air Transport Association assembly in Beijing, Leahy said that an order announcement covering the 350-passenger -1000 here at Farnborough was a “possibility.”
One potential customer remaining to be convinced about the A350’s operational charms is Air Lease chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy. Previously, as the then-boss of ILFC, and supported by GECAS and Singapore Airlines, he persuaded Airbus to drop its original A330-derived A350 proposals in favor of the new design. He is concerned about weight growth and guaranteed performance.
Airbus has confirmed that two of the five planned A350 development aircraft will have furnished airline interiors. The first, Serial Number 002, is to be laid out in a two-class, 252-passenger configuration, with 42 business-class seats in a 1+2+1 arrangement and 210 nine-abreast, economy-class passengers accommodated in 70 triple-seat units.
Both aircraft will be used to validate what Airbus calls a new “customization concept” based on pre-developed packages at each end of the cabin and at two mid-cabin stations, including one at Door 2. Each package consists of one or more monuments and their related interfaces. The two aircraft will undertake evacuation tests, early long flights and ETOPS route-proving services.
The initial static-test airframe is MSN 5000, rolled out earlier this year, with Airbus now concerned with getting MSN 001 to the flight line by the middle of 2013 to meet the first-half 2014 service-entry target. “We still have to demonstrate that we can certificate in one year,” said Evrard.
Installation of equipment was “very well advanced” on MSN 001 by the beginning of June and detail parts and assemblies continued to arrive from partners and suppliers. The tailplane was “almost ready to ship,” while Airbus had accepted the first set of aircraft doors–the first such all-carbonfiber-reinforced plastics units on a commercial aircraft. Seven ship sets, each comprising 11 doors–from Eurocopter in Germany and the ailerons from Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Final assembly was well under way, with Airbus due to begin preparation of the static-test specimen for full-scale airframe testing. “We are near the end of the journey,” said Evrard. He reported that a cargo substructure crash test of the lower fuselage “went very well,” confirming validity of the manufacturer’s “modeling.” Rest rigs for major landing-gear tests are being prepared in the building previously used for similar work on the A380.
Meanwhile, a big challenge for Evrard has been a new wing assembly system for which drilling of upper and lower skins (dubbed “covers” by Airbus) has been slower than expected, but is expected to become an asset over time, especially when production speeds up.
On the thorny topic of keeping to the production schedule, Evrard said there is a “manageable amount” of out-of-sequence work. “Outstanding work targets have been defined to maintain efficiency and meet quality ‘gates,’” he explained.
Having acquired a German supplier earlier this year to ensure continuity of parts, the European manufacturer is well aware of the program’s potential fragility. “Suppliers are in reasonable shape, but we have to watch the financial situation,” concluded the head of the A350 program.