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US investment-advice consultancy Bernstein Research
believes that the new Airbus A350 twin-aisle twinjet may
be delayed beyond the manufacturer s latest schedule,
issued in November. The European manufacturer
revised its production timetable for the A350 XWB (an
abbreviation of "extra-wide body") following delays in
sub-assembly deliveries from suppliers in Europe and the USA, pushing the
start of nal assembly back from late 2011 to early 2012.
e scheduled rst- ight date for the initial A350-900 variant has slipped
from late 2012 to 2013 s rst quarter, with entry into service (EIS) with launch
customer Qatar Airways consequently delayed by six months, to the rst half of
2014. Similarly, Bernstein has revised its own, more pessimistic, prediction of
A350-900 EIS by some six months to mid-2015, having previously predicted
delivery of eight A350s in 2014 and 50 in 2015.
e late delivery of sub-assemblies has been caused, at least partly, by nancing
di culties experienced by some suppliers. Hans-Peter Ring, chief nancial
o cer of Airbus parent EADS, attributes the delay to funding problems.
"All suppliers are in big di culties [and] the whole system is under pressure,"
Ring says. e revised production schedule was announced on the same day
as EADS s third-quarter nancial results, and led to the Airbus parent taking
a charge of 200 million Euros (about US$270 million) on its balance sheet.
At November s Dubai Airshow, Airbus Chief Operating O cer (Customers)
John Leahy said the manufacturer expected no cancellations from Middle East
operators, despite widely reported comments from Dubai-based Emirates and
Qatar Air ways.
Airbus s top salesman also sought to underplay the timetable revision. "I don t
see any cancellations taking place as a result of the delay ... and certainly not
for a delay of a couple of months to the programme," Leahy told Gulf News.
e new A350 schedule gives Airbus and engine-supplier Rolls-Royce more
time to con rm the Trent XWB powerplant s performance. e initial unit
has been installed on A380 test aircra MSN 1 for airborne tests previously
set to begin 12 months before the A350 s original rst- ight date. As of early
November, neither company would reveal the latest timetable.
Airbus priorities now are to establish maturity of principal components and
sub-assemblies arriving for nal assembly in Toulouse in southwest France. e
manufacturer plans to start assembling an initial static-test article, called ES,
in early 2012.
" e programme is advancing [with] manufacturing and pre-assembly of
the A350-900 progressing across all pre- nal-assembly (pre-FAL) sites," says
Airbus. Nevertheless, Ring has revealed that Airbus representatives have been
parachuted in to assist suppliers "where necessary".
"Lessons learned from previous programmes [will be] applied for the next
[final-assembly] phase," says Airbus Executive Vice-President and A350
Programme Head Didier Evrard. He identifies four "maturity enablers"
required as the rst airframe is assembled: supply-chain and factory readiness,
manageable out-of-sequence work, and quality of assembly and installation
drawings. "We need to control out-of-sequence work, or we will lose e ciency.
We cannot allow too much work to 'travel ," he says.
Airbus planned to have begun systems installation in the static-test airframe
by the end of 2011, with systems integration tests continuing as nal assembly
takes place. In early November, the rst airframe was reaching the end of pre-
nal assembly, which had been delayed by late delivery of some composites and
detailed parts. "It is our top priority to reach the highest levels of part-readiness
before aircra sections enter nal assembly," Evrard says.
Sub-assemblies still undelivered in November were primarily composite
fuselage skin-panels from US-based Spirit AeroSystems. In October, Spirit had
said it was "work[ing] with Airbus to meet all their requirements and delivery
schedules for the pre- nal assembly phase".
Assembly of the rst composite wings for the aircra is under way at Airbus s
new North Factory in Broughton, UK, following pre-assembly of the wings
xed leading and trailing edges, ribs, and upper and lower 'covers (skin panels).
Most of the wing is made from lightweight carbon- bre composite material,
including the for ward and rear spars, stringers, and covers.
Meanwhile, the rst A350-900 for ward fuselage section has been shipped
by structures supplier Premium Aerotec to Hamburg, where systems are being
installed before delivery to Toulouse for nal assembly. e wing spars and
trailing edges are being supplied by UK aerostructures manufacturer GKN
Aerospace, whose technical director, Richard Old eld, has acknowledged the
challenge faced as the contractor prepares to increase production, with about
a dozen aircra planned for completion in 2012.
As Airbus begins to establish series production, the initial static-test airframe
will be followed by the rst two ight-test A350s -- MSN001 and MSN003.
en comes the fatigue-test specimen (actually three large assemblies: EF1, EF2
and EF3) and MSN004, the cabin-interior test aircra .
With Emirates, Finnair, Qatar Airways, TAP Air Portugal, and North
American operators United Airlines, and US Airways, Airbus has opened an
"Airline O ce" to establish operational expertise. Evrard says it will validate
the aircra maintenance manual, ground-support equipment tools, minimum
mandatory equipment lists, and other things.
Ian Goold / London
"All suppliers are in big difficulties [and] the
whole system is under pressure." -- EADS
Chief Financial Officer Hans-Peter Ring
A350 schedule could slip even
further, claims US analyst
A350 wing assembly is now underway at
Airbus s new North Factory in Broughton, UK.
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