June 17, 2013
Credit: Airbus.P. Masclet
The A380 may be the most spectacular aircraft ever produced by Airbus, but the aircraft-maker's ability to regain traction in the overall widebody segment will largely depend on its new A350.
Rolled out of the paint hangar without the typical fanfare last month, the A350 is not only the answer to Boeing's 787 family, but also to the highly successful 777—it will compete against the proposed 777X, expected to be launched this year. The A350 was initially conceived as a three-member family, but Airbus has been focusing on the -900 baseline and stretched -1000, leaving the industry questioning the future of the -800, particularly since the upgraded A330-300 could largely play its role.
Airbus has collected 637 firm orders for the three variants, most of which (414) are for the -900, although sales of the -1000 have picked up noticeably in the past year, following the late redesign and engine upgrade that led Airbus to delay first delivery by 18 months to 2017. Detailed development of the -1000 is now in full swing, but at the moment all eyes are on the flight tests of the first A350-900.
Airbus powered up the engines on MSN001 on June 2 for the first time and the aircraft was expected to make its first flight late last week. The second and third flight-test aircraft, MSN003 and, MSN002, respectively, are on the final assembly line. Airbus is working with 10 customers this year on their initial aircraft to ensure the production ramp-up will be accomplished as soon as possible. By year-end, the program is scheduled to be producing one A350 per month. The production-rate average before first delivery—planned for the second half of next year—is slated to be two per month; it is expected to rise to three per month by the end of 2014. Airbus ultimately plans to build 10 A350s monthly four years after entry into service, the rate it reached on the A330 program and that Boeing plans for the 787.
Airbus anticipates accumulating 2,500 hr. of flight tests involving five aircraft to achieve certification. MSN001, equipped with about 30 tons of test instrumentation, is flying first, testing basic performance and then opening the flight envelope to extremes, including flutter and maximum dive tests, relatively early in the program.
MSN003 is slated to join the test campaign in early October, equipped with the same level of instrumentation and goals as MSN001, with which it will be interchangeable. The instrumentation comprises more than 450 km (280 mi.) of wiring, an engineer station, multiple computers to record more than 5,000 different measurements and a water ballast system to shift the center of gravity in flight.
A passenger cabin will be installed in the third flight-test aircraft, MSN002, which is scheduled for cabin, evacuation, air-conditioning and systems tests as well as early long flights. It is to take to the air in January 2014.