Evrard says that the set-up will be sufficient for the planned production rate of 10 aircraft per month, and that it also has capacity reserves to go beyond that threshold if market demand is strong enough.
Airbus will be at the production rate of one per month by the end of this year, and a rate of three per month by the end of 2014. Evrard points out that he expects strong demand for the -1000 variant and that Airbus now has the flexibility to mix production between the -900 and the -1000, up to around a 50/50 split. He says the timing for the A350-800, the smallest version in the family, is still “a moving target,” but “as long as the airlines show an interest, the aircraft will be done.” The -800 has lost more than half of its backlog as Airbus has tried to convert those orders to the larger -900 and -1000. But a small group of airlines is insisting that the -800 version still be produced. The -800 backlog currently stands at 89 aircraft.
Evrard confirms that the -1000 is now “entering the industrial phase of the program,” as Airbus has begun supplying data to the tooling manufacturers. The final assembly line is to start by the end of 2015, followed by first flight in the second half of 2016 and entry into service by around mid-2017.
According to Evrard, one of the challenges will be that the aircraft will have to enter a manufacturing flow which will already be “at a very high speed.” But he says the effort is worth it, because “there is a good piece of the cake to grab.” He argues that the market for aircraft of the A350-1000’s size has grown by 29% since the launch of the A350 program, and now will total around 2,100 units over 20 years.