In late 2011, Airbus was forced to make a painful decision regarding the A350, announcing a second delay in the overall development program. The reported reasons were supplier issues, pushing first customer acceptance to this year. Suppliers were late in meeting key milestones because of financial issues brought about by the severe Eurozone-wide severe financial crisis. At the time, Airbus was forced to acquire a key German supplier, PFW Aerospace.
The A350 completed a major milestone in June 2013 with completion of first flight. Since that time, Airbus teams have been conducting 2500 hours of rigorous flight testing involving two separate test aircraft to prepare for this aircraft’s next major milestone, final certification and commercial service with designated launch customer, Qatar Airways.
This week, Airbus decided on a brief suspension of its A350 flight testing program in order to make an important gesture to its soon to be most influential potential customer base, namely airlines located in the Middle East and in Asia.
The aircraft first stopped over at Doha, the home of Qatar Airways to not only demonstrate the aircraft, but also allow two select Qatar pilots to fly the aircraft after a brief training session. It was then off to the Singapore Air Show to perform on the ground and in the air demonstrations for show attendees.
Singapore is also the home on another A350 customer, Singapore Airlines.
This latest reprieve from certification testing was obviously very important for Airbus. So much so, that it produced a 24 minute You Tube video. The video not only provides highlights of this week’s events but also provides rather important updates to the program which is worth a view to its conclusion.
The first and most important is that the two A350 test aircraft have now performed 1000 test hours of the total 2500 hours of required certification testing. In the video, the aircraft’s chief engineer and test pilot indicate a high level of confidence in the aircraft’s performance thus far.
Airbus also provides images of severe altitude and cold weather testing conducted in both Bolivia and Northern Canada that is often required for certification. We were fascinated in viewing the interior of a test aircraft that is loaded with testing equipment but also provide seating for 50 technical and support personnel required on each test flight. It is fascinating to actually view the sophistication of testing that goes into today’s next generation of commercial aircraft.
In its reporting of this week’s events regarding the A350, Bloomberg makes an important and insightful observation. The authors note that Airbus’s original goal was to secure in industry parlance, what is known as Extended-twin-operation (ETOPS) level of such certification, which allows airlines to be able fly the aircraft without any restrictions to land or emergency airports. According to Bloomberg, when the Boeing 787 suffered its difficulties with lithium battery and electrical related fires, the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) reconsidered the Airbus application, and imposed stricter tests before allowing the A350 full ETOPS. The Boeing 787 remains restricted from ETOPS status which has become a reported annoyance for some of Boeing’s 787 customers. Since FAA ETOPS certification only applies to U.S. based airlines, European, Middle East and Asia based airlines may have an advantage in terms of operational scheduling as they receive new aircraft.
Our view is that Airbus has chosen a high visibility approach to A350 for a specific intent, namely to prove to the commercial aircraft industry’s most influential future customers that quality, reliability and operational reliability at shipment acceptance, will perform to stated performance objectives. It is yet another reminder of the importance of having integrated product lifecycle management (PLM) capability. That has important meaning for today’s aerospace supply chains where risk is shared across the entire value-chain.