For the commercial aircraft industry and its respective supply chains, a consistent track record of new aircraft development and production release program delays unfortunately remains the same.
To add to its other program woes, Airbus announced this week that initial delivery of its planned A350-1000 model long-range aircraft will slip another year. The initial test flight, originally scheduled for about this time, is now not expected until after September. Indications are that initial deliveries of this new aircraft to launch customer Qatar Airways are not expected until the second-half of 2017.
In a statement, Airbus indicated: “.”We have adapted the A350-1000 schedule to ensure we fully satisfy our customers’ requirements for a mature aircraft from day one.” The manufacturer further added that it would put adequate resources in place to achieve program milestones.
According to business media reports, the first three test aircraft are currently in the final assembly stage. From that fact alone, we suspect that delays have more to do with the readiness of the supply chain to be able to scale to initial productions levels. To date, Airbus has reportedly booked 181 orders from 10 airline customers for this new model, the largest long-range aircraft offering for Airbus.
The 1000 model is the longest-fuselage version of Airbus’ new A350 family of wide-body jetliners. With this design and configuration, the aircraft can accommodate a range of from 366-440 passengers, which means lots of seat per plane. An ongoing constraint in wide-body supply chains has been availability of airline seats in-volume. Powering the A350-1000 will be a higher-thrust Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines from which will allow this largest model to attain even greater levels of fuel efficiency. Newer models of more technologically advanced aircraft engines have had their share of ongoing ramp-up problems as-well.
The program itself has had its ups and downs including in December of 2014, an announcement of a last-minute sudden delay in the initial delivery to launch customer Qatar Airways only to change that two days later. Since that time, the European based aircraft producer has experienced continual delays in its ability to support planned volume production of this model. As noted in a related posting last week, subsequent deliveries of new A350 model aircraft remain impacted due to adequate supply of cabin seating and interior equipment. Plans called for delivery of a total of 50 aircraft in 2016, but Airbus has managed to deliver only 10 so far this year due to the supply delays. There are a reported 40 of this aircraft in various stages of final assembly and Airbus has augmented production with added work stations to get late delivered cabin equipment installed as quickly as possible.
The ongoing tense customer relationship among Airbus and Qatar that dates back to the scheduled initial delivery of the A350 family now takes on more dimensions since Qatar had contracted for initial deliveries of the 1000 model starting this month. No doubt, Qatar’s candid and direct CEO will have the last word regarding this latest delay announcement.
While the latest Airbus program delay was probably motivated by prudence in assuring complete readiness of the supply chain, it does reflect and industry track record of continually underestimating the scope of program and supply chain challenges. With more and more major system components being outsourced to global based suppliers, aerospace supply chains seem to constant underestimate the ramifications and added requirements for increased design and production process coordination with major suppliers. What has not helped is an industry environment where booked orders far exceed available capacity placing more pressure of suppliers to meet aggressive milestones from multiple global manufacturers. Add to that, increased pressures for reduced costs and higher efficiencies and you get the picture of conflicted goals and priorities.
The A350 situation does not currently compare with the ongoing delivery delays with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner program that has now amassed a reported $28 billion in ‘deferred production costs” because of continued multi-year delays in customer deliveries. None the less, the track record of missed program milestones and lack of supply chain readiness continues across most manufacturers.