Airbus has begun airline crew training for its A350XWB customers about six months ahead of the new twin-aisle twinjet’s entry into service, scheduled for late this year, according to chief test pilot Peter Chandler, who flew the aircraft on its maiden flight in June 2013. He reports that the training syllabus has been developed and that the first A350 pilot course was under way last month, with access to a full flight simulator. Launch customer Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines have received demonstration flights.
The start of training comes as the European manufacturer is looking forward to obtaining formal airworthiness approval for the design, which contains a much larger proportion of carbon fiber composites in its structure than previous Airbus models. By early June, more than 70 percent of certification documents had been delivered to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), with 100 percent “planned for end of the [northern] summer,” according to A350 program executive vice president Didier Evrard.
He said EASA certification had been launched for the A350 manufacturer’s serial number (MSN) 006, destined to be the first Qatari aircraft, and that the agency has approved the manufacturer’s flight-test plan for extended-range twin-engine operations (Etops). That aircraft, MSN007 (the second for Qatar Airways), and the following three were in final assembly last month.
Evrard said these first two production aircraft are being prepared for late-2014 delivery, “and then we will discuss next year as more customers join the club.” Major assemblies for airframes up to at least MSN039 were under way last month at various partner factories, with the A350 “on track for first delivery by year-end.”
Airbus is planning “a steep industrial ramp-up” that is expected to see production increase from two per month (Rate 2) now to Rate 3 at the end of 2014, and Rate 5 about 12 months later (as the stretched A350-1000 is introduced). This will grow steadily to a predicted 10 per month–perhaps within another two years, and certainly by 2020. Having built the first five A350s, with the initial aircraft spending just eight months in final assembly–“a very efficient use of time”–Evrard expects that this period will fall to about three months when Airbus is in full production mode.
As the build rates increase, Evrard said that one of the most important factors by which to gauge program success will be “industrial and supply chain readiness.” Others include having a stable design, certification and customer definition on time, and achieving A350-1000 commonality and maturity.
He sees the freezing of A350 “customization,” for which Airbus has established a “cabin ‘configurator’” in its new customer definition center in Hamburg, as a key enabler for ramp-up. Before this year, A350 cabin interior layouts–so called “head of version contractual definition freezes”–had been agreed to with at least Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, LATAM Airlines (the merged South American carriers LAN and TAM), and lessors CIT and ILFC.
By year-end, Evrard expects to have agreements with 10 more customers, including Ethiopian Airways, Singapore Airlines, SriLankan Airlines and Thai Airways. They are to be joined next year by Antilles operator Air Caraibes, Asiana, Etihad Airlines, Hawaiian, Lufthansa and TAP Portugal, followed by as many as 17 in 2016.
To monitor manufacturing activity and to address any issues arising, Airbus has established a supply-chain improvement plan among its 213 commodity providers, 90 percent of which are under what Airbus terms “standard surveillance and improvement.” A matrix charting supplier capability and capacity against supplier risk exposure shows a few companies at the top end of both categories: 7.5 percent of suppliers are subject to a joint improvement plan with Airbus, while the remaining 2.5 percent are covered by a “development and transformation” program.
An important element of work toward A350 type certification is the completion of major airframe fatigue tests. Evrard said in mid-June that within “a few weeks” Airbus expects to have completed Essai Fatigue (EF, or “fatigue test”) 2, which began in April on an A350 Section15/21 specimen including wingbox and belly fairing.
EF1, initiated last October on Section 11/13 with a dummy nose landing gear, has been completed after 9,823 simulated flights. Also complete, after 4,880 simulated flights beginning in March, is EF3, a test of Section16/19 with stub tailfin and dummy tailplane and tailcone. Testing of the wing under a “composite fatigue spectrum” involving different repetitive cycles has been completed after undergoing the equivalent of one aircraft “life,” or design service goal, and undergoing an ultimate load test.