There are differing views about what has caused the problem and how serious it is. One industry executive says decisions on crucial changes and detailed design were made too late to be introduced with the initial aircraft. “They have missed the slot,” he says. In light of the detailed requirements that have been communicated to suppliers in the past few weeks, the aim of the whole initiative appears to be clear to him: “Getting down weight and cost.”
Component weight is to be reduced by up to 5% in some cases, but there seems to be a wide range of targets depending on the part.
“I can understand the comments in the supply chain,” says Fehring. “'First time right' is the target, but continuous improvement is also possible.” He says the exercise is “quite a normal process.” Improvements are being introduced “in MSN batches” on the A350, Fehring says, as opposed to the A380 approach, in which Airbus implemented changes with heads of versions (initial aircraft delivered to a new customer).
According to Fehring, the batching is necessary to accommodate developed performance improvements, industrial process findings and design mismatches, which he characterizes as “a lot of tiny things.” He also says there will be some changes to the fuselage structure, without specifying them further. But those are part of the reason why the cabin installation has to be reworked, too.
Fehring confirms that “continued weight improvement is always a target, but we do not need them to meet our performance guarantees.” In other words, Airbus says that even early Batch 1 and 2 A350s will not be overweight beyond contractual obligations.
Other industry executives have doubts, however. One senior official says the first aircraft will be so overweight that Airbus will have to pay damages to the affected customers. The weight-reduction effort has not been going according to plan and has slipped by three months, the official adds. Because of the difficulties, it is not clear yet which planned upgrades can be incorporated in which batch.
Fehring indicates that the batching does not only affect the cabin. “We are driving improvements all over the aircraft to address technical performance or industrial handling,” he says.
The third flight-test aircraft, MSN2, will be the first to have a cabin. With MSN1 and MSN3 flying earlier, Airbus has more time to complete interior development.
Diehl Aerosystems and its suppliers are in charge of most of the A350 interior work. Diehl says that as the A350 is still in development, changes are natural. “All sorts of technical improvement, serving weight-reduction among others, are being constantly pursued in the industry to optimize the product,” says a company official. “The changes currently being worked on for the A350 will successively be taken over into series standard, which is going to happen in several batches. That is a normal process that has already been applied for the A380.”