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Airbus A350 Progress Includes Double-Stretch Study

 - November 17, 2013, 6:15 AM
Airbus faces several major steps in bringing its new A350XWB twin-aisle twinjet into service. The company is working hard on flight testing, hoping to achieve a mature design when the twinjet enters service with Qatar Airways in the second half of 2014.

Airbus faces several major steps in bringing the A350XWB, which flew in June before appearing at the Paris Air Show, into service in the second half of 2014, said executive vice-president and A350 program head Didier Evrard. The manufacturer is working hard to progress the five-aircraft flight-test campaign in order to deliver a mature design at entry into service (EIS).

As the new twin-aisle twinjet progresses, Airbus (Stand 410) must secure production ramp-up dates with its suppliers, and ensure smooth introduction of the stretched Series 1000 variant as it increases final-assembly capacity and tries to “capitalize on the A350 family position to increase market share,” said Evrard.

Among considerations as Airbus studies the development potential of all its aircraft designs is a possible second extension of the basic fuselage, which logically would be dubbed A350-1100. For Evrard, this would be straightforward: “Stretching [the aircraft] further is possible, it is no show-stopper.” Last month, he characterized such a second stretch as “still in the concept phase or even pre-concept phase. Others did it, so we can certainly do it. It’s a question of markets, of priorities. And we will continue to listen to our customers [and] hear what’s best for them. We have a big order book, so we are not in a hurry to define another product, but if the market needs it we’ll do it.”

Airbus product-marketing head Sophie Pendaries said that further higher-thrust variants of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine could be available depending on the degree of additional stretch–“two, three, four, five frames: we study everything”–and the offered range, which needs to be defined. The possible variant is “generating a lot of reaction from the competition, but let’s wait and see,” she said.

There is also talk of an A350 Regional variant, but Pendaries emphasized that this would not be the same as the A330 Regional recently revealed by the manufacturer. “The A330 Regional is a high-density aircraft for short-haul services. An A350 Regional would be for long-haul operations, so the two types are complementary but are not the same range,” explained Pendaries. “There are two types of long-haul: up to eight hours and more than eight hours, which requires a crew rest. Eight hours long-haul is the limit of the A350 Regional, which is not the target of the A330 Regional.”

With more than 175 orders booked, the initial stretched version–the 369-passenger A350-1000–is now entering the industrialization process, according to Evrard. A predicted market for 1,300 large twin-aisle twinjets accommodating 350+ passengers and about 780 to carry 400+ has grown by 29 percent since Airbus launched the A350XWB, said Evrard.

Prepping For Production

Final assembly is scheduled to start in the fourth quarter of 2015, with the ramp-up already started for the higher production rate that will pertain when the A350-1000 enters service in 2017. “[Final assembly] will involve a higher degree of maturity even than the A350-900 because we have to insert [the new variant] into the final-assembly line flow that will already be operating at high speed,” said Evrard. Airbus is already preparing to increase A350 build rate for 2017’s EIS.

The manufacturer sees A350-1000 development essentially as low risk after the -900’s steep learning curve. Evrard said there are many bridges to the earlier design because of the high level of commonality. Changes from the basic aircraft include the introduction of respective six- and five-frame forward- and aft-fuselage plugs and a stronger landing gear. Indeed, the new six-wheel undercarriage bogies suggest that the idea of a second A350 stretch is not a new one.

By the end of 2013, Airbus hopes to be building one A350-900 a month–dubbed Production Rate One. Plans call for this final-assembly flow to triple by the beginning of 2015. Evrard said that Airbus “would like to take time [to accelerate assembly] but customers do not want to wait.” He expects program technical and industrial maturity to merge with customers’ needs as Airbus prepares to deliver the first A350 to launch customer Qatar Airways around next September.

A year after inauguration of A350 final assembly, Airbus has two aircraft flying, but, concluded Evrard, “A program is never finished; we still have great challenges ahead to be processed.”