For Airbus and its A350XWB program, 2013 should prove a critical year. With service entry already pushed back to the second half of 2014, the European airframer is carefully managing expectations for a first flight as it seeks to resist the temptation to rush the key milestone in time for June’s Paris Air Show. At the consortium’s annual press conference last week, company executives would talk only of a “mid-2013” maiden flight, while trumpeting the completion of the first airframe (MSN2), expected to start initial static tests in the spring. Airbus plans to use the second aircraft (MSN1), assembly and “power-on” of which it achieved in December, for flight-testing. Soon it plans to start building a third A350 (MSN3) at its final assembly line in Toulouse, France.
“We will have a certified engine pretty soon, as Rolls-Royce has done its blade-out test [on the Trent XWB turbofan],” Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said during the January 17 press briefing. He acknowledged that Airbus continues to address A350 supplier “issues” in an effort to manage the supply chain better. “This program remains challenging but we are focused on our biggest challenge–to fly the A350,” he concluded, admitting that Airbus would be “very proud” if first flight took place in time for the Paris show.
Contributing orders for 105 of the 582 A350s in the sales backlog, the new -1000 variant of the A350 received “a big endorsement,” said Bregier, when Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways ordered 37 and 26 respectively. Sales trends appear to show less interest in the smaller A350-800 and stronger demand for the larger -900 and -1000 variants, which compete more directly with Boeing’s 777.
Separately, the European manufacturer announced the appointment of Eric Chen as the new president of Airbus China. The Shanghai-born executive previously served as Airbus China’s senior vice president for commercial and external affairs. He succeeds Laurence Barron, who has now become chairman and CEO of EADS China. Meanwhile, Airbus China also has named Rafael Gonzalez-Ripoli-Garzon as its new COO.