Today marked the successful completion of the maiden first flight of the Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, and the beginning of a final phase toward production. The aircraft completed its four hour maiden flight from Airbus’s corporate airfield near Toulouse France amid lots of fanfare. The timing of this maiden flight coincides the opening of next week’s Paris Air Show, one of the largest aerospace industry bazaars where lots of airline, industry and aerospace supplier executives gather to view the latest aerospace products and to conduct lots of deals. The theater is well-timed and well-chosen.
Readers can view a series of videos of this maiden voyage by visiting the dedicated A350 first flight web site. There are some great videos that outline the supply chain flows and advanced final production process of this aircraft on the Airbus web site. We enjoyed watching them and they are very well done.
The A350 is the Airbus response to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and 777 series aircraft. It is built with composite fiber materials in its fuselage structures and is equipped with two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines featuring cutting-edge materials and cooling technologies claiming 25 percent less fuel consumption than prior generations. According to Airbus’s web site, the engines themselves are slighter larger in diameter than those that power the huge A380 but they are actually lighter in weight, quieter, and the lowest in carbon emissions. Similar to Boeing’s 787, the supply chain is global, but not as extended. Having had the opportunity to observe developments concerning the ongoing customer introduction of the 787, Airbus elected not to utilize lithium-ion batteries as backup power.
Similar to Boeing’s 787, challenges concerning the overall supply chain lengthened original product development and market release plans. In November of 2011, the CEO of Airbus’s parent EADS expressed a personal apology in announcing a delay in the originally planned A350 program. The market introduction was pushed back from late 2013 to first half of 2014. In the announced delay, Airbus noted: “we have to bring mature components to the assembly line and to get mature components we need a bit more time.” At that time, The Financial Times speculated that Airbus had concluded that certain supplier components were not of acceptable quality and it was necessary to “stop and fix” the program, which was characterized as a bold but practical decision. At that time, Supply Chain Matters praised the decision, noting that it was far more important to fix any supplier readiness issues earlier than later in the program, when the stakes are far higher. We have since learned that Airbus has added advanced technology to insure that engineering and supplier teams collaborate virtually working with electronic designs and 3D renderings of designs and component parts.
This far, Airbus has garnered 613 firm orders for the A350 from 33 airline and leasing customers. Many of the customers are the emerging airline industry disruptors like Qatar, who are aggressively augmenting long-distance lift capacity and not shy about exhibiting aggressive demands and negotiating skills. They recognize that they are players in explosive emerging markets where air travel will expand quickly, and new, more efficient aircraft need to be ready on-time to meet this demand.
This maiden flight is the prelude to a series of 2500 flight hours of rigorous test flights involving five separate aircraft that should culminate in aircraft certification. The Airbus plan is to have first customer ship to inaugural customer Qatar Airways by the second-half of 2014. In our view, that is a critical milestone for the A350 supply chain community, since the Dreamliner has apparently moved beyond its battery failure issues and is in its production ramp-up stage. As readers know, the Dreamliner program is over three years late, and customers are feeling the financial effects. Meeting the revised A350 time-to-market plan assures that customers have options to meet their planned operational scheduling and financial savings milestones. As our aerospace industry readers also are fully aware, the new wave of combined production ramp-ups involving Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Cessna, Embraer and COMAC are both a blessing and enormous stress. Any glitches and or hiccups have implications.
Supply Chain Matters extends its thumbs-up recognition to the entire extended A350 global supply chain community for reaching today’s very important milestone.
We look forward to posting future updates regarding successful production ramp-up and look forward to perhaps taking part in the A350 flying experience on a future journey.