Several internal milestones loom. One is the start of final assembly of the first flight aircraft, MSN1, in July. Airbus also targets power-on when the first two of three fuselage sections are mated to quickly reduce integration risk. Later in the summer, Sections 13/14 (the mid fuselage) and Sections 11/12 (the nose section) are slated to be joined with the aft fuselage.
However, component supply issues remain a concern. Airbus has worked with suppliers “to jointly develop action plans to make it work seamlessly,” says Fabrice Bregier, Airbus COO, who will take over running the company on June 1 when Tom Enders becomes EADS CEO.
“In terms of readiness, they are in reasonable shape,” Evrard notes. But he adds, “we are watching very closely the financial health of the suppliers.” The current financial pressure in Europe is making it difficult for some small companies to obtain loans, Bregier notes.
It is not just about small suppliers—Airbus continues to work with GKN Aerospace and Spirit AeroSystems to make sure their efforts are on track. Progress has been made, but more must be done, Evrard says, to get back on schedule by year-end.
Nonetheless, there have also been several encouraging developments. The process of building the static test article, the first aircraft undergoing assembly, is so far running smoothly. Evrard says, “everybody in the final assembly was pleased with how it came together” with no gaps between sections. Once the wings are mated to the fuselage, it will validate much of the structural assembly process.
Evrard also notes that the company has been trying to incorporate many lessons from other programs. An early complaint about the A380 was that it generated too many built-in-test (BIT) messages, which overwhelmed crews. On the A350, the BIT approach was refined to avoid that, and suppliers were told to have BIT capabilities ready when subsystems are delivered so the software can be updated.