Airbus has started painting the A350, a sign it is approaching its first flight, but has bowed to the industry's increasingly pragmatic mood by deciding against a traditional rollout for its newest jet.
Airbus A350 final assembly. Image: Airbus.
Eight years after the spectacular launch of the A380 superjumbo, the A350 will prepare to leave the nest with less fanfare in an industry sobered by delays and technical issues.The first coat of paint in Airbus livery should be ready on the A350 next week, people familiar with the project say.After that, the high-tech carbon-composite jet will be dressed ready for the first flight, which most industry sources expect in late June or early July.The lack of fanfare reflects growing emphasis on project "execution" after Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturers endured multiple delays and problems culminating in the three-month grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner earlier this year.Asked recently whether Airbus would hold an A350 rollout ceremony, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier told Reuters, "Probably not. We'll go straight to our first flight."The flight's timing may disappoint enthusiasts hoping to see the jet, developed at an estimated cost of USD$15 billion, at the Paris Air Show on June 17-23.Bregier has said he will not be tied to PR deadlines after slowing the project to weed out any glitches. Airbus says the A350 will enter service on time, however, in mid-2014.The CSeries jet, rolled out by Canada's Bombardier in March, is also expected to miss the Paris show, which is likely to be dominated by a return of popular Russian fighter displays.ROLLOUTS 'DEVALUED'For years, aerospace manufacturers have vied to produce lavish rollouts to show off their latest creations.The showbiz end of the industry is seen as an important step in the marketing of a new plane, demonstrating to airline buyers and aerospace investors that an aircraft's metamorphosis from designer's imagination to real flying machine is complete.Airbus and Boeing threw giant parties for the A380 superjumbo and 787 Dreamliner, but the celebrations turned into a costly hangover when both projects were later delayed. Boeing was criticised for displaying a partially completed shell."The rollout concept perhaps became a bit devalued by the presentation of an empty 787 with the wrong fasteners and no cockpit," said Agency Partners analyst Nick Cunningham."Historically, rollouts have been a great way of raising the profile of a new airliner. But it is understandable if Airbus feels that a first flight event can serve that purpose more effectively," said Andrew Doyle, editor of Flight Daily News.With Airbus already describing the A350 schedule as "challenging", the company is also seen as wary of giving customers the impression it is being distracted - having held an inauguration for the A350 assembly plant just six months ago.Launch customer Qatar Airways' outspoken chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, has criticised Airbus and Boeing over delays and said the 787 grounding had cost it USD$200 million. Source: Reuters
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