Evrard also points out that at least the first two flight-test aircraft will be kept at Airbus and no decision has been made whether to keep MSN2 and MSN4, the subsequent aircraft. Airbus plans to assemble two aircraft this year and start producing a third before year-end. In the second half of 2013, it will aim for a production rate of one aircraft per month. “Ramping up production will be crucial,” Evrard says.
Airbus plans to roll out the first A350 (MSN1) in April, though it has not specified when the aircraft will make its first flight, aside from saying it expects to reach that milestone next summer.
Work is progressing on a second assembly hall that will allow Airbus to increase production rates starting in 2014. Initial assembly is performed in one hall that includes four stations, three of which are duplicated: Station 50 for fuselage assembly, Station 40 for wing-to-body-join, and Station 30 for systems-testing and cabin installation Once the second hall is completed, the two Station 30s will move to it and another two will be added. Two more Station 40s will be added in the current building in the freed up space.
That space is needed as part of the ramp-up to producing 10 aircraft per month that is scheduled to be reached in 2017. A majority of those aircraft could actually be allocated to the largest version, the much-revamped and delayed -1000. “We expected around 40-50 aircraft per year, but we will be much better than that,” Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier says. If that decision is made, Airbus will also have to invest more into dedicated A350-1000 facilities, he concedes. Bregier insists that Airbus will build all three planned versions, even though he admits that customers have “less appetite for the -800,” the smallest variant. “The market will move slightly to bigger aircraft. But we are observing that trend with other models, too,” he says.
Airbus would not be Airbus if it could do without politics. The German government is withholding up to €600 million ($778 million) in refundable loans for the A350 for which the other governments involved (of Spain, France and the U.K.) have given the green light. Berlin wants further assurances about the German workshare in the A350 and is concerned that sites in the country might lose out in the long term. It recently blocked the proposed EADS/BAE Systems merger on the same grounds and seems to be taking a tougher stance on industry control than it has historically done. Germany also wants to acquire 15% of EADS from Daimler, although the intricacies and possible legal implications are complex and difficult to resolve.
Bregier says Germany's decision will not cause delays or put the program at risk. However, government-backed financing would help Airbus rule out risk, even if it comes with interest rates that are higher than usual.