BROUGHTON -- After the first of two days of technical briefings on the future of Airbus and its product offerings, the spectre of airframer's lessons learned on the A380 loom large over the coming industrialization of the A350 XWB.
With schedule pressures mounting and a three month slide in commencement of final assembly of MSN001, Airbus is trying to avoid the mistakes of the A380 that it continues to pay for today with a slow production ramp pressured by a slowly recovering global economy, but more importantly a fragile supply chain and the complexity of customizing each airline's cabin.
Preparations are well underway from nose-to-tail on the new majority composite twin, from structures, to systems, to interiors, the A350 is rapidly becoming a reality. The first parts of MSN001 have already been produced, and Airbus is moving toward the fabrication of Cabin 0 (MSN5011), the systems test demonstrator. Additionally, the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine will be ground tested at the end of the month, while Airbus will flight test a 14ft (4.3m) CFRP panel on the side of an A340-300 later this year.
Perhaps its most direct application of its lessons learned on A380, Airbus is building a physical mockup of the A350 in addition to the digital mock up (DMU) built with CATIA V5 to validate in reality what has been designed in virtual reality. When building the A380, differing versions of CATIA produced mismatching wire bundles throughout the superjumbo, requiring early aircraft to be custom wired.
In this same vein, Airbus has moderated itself on the customization of the A350 cabin opting for a modular architecture for items such as galleys and lavatories for airline differentiation, while getting out in front of the engineering required to outfit a premium cabin. Traditionally, interior furnishings come from two categories: SFE and BFE. SFE, or supplier furnished equipment, was selected from a catalog of standard offerings, while BFE, or buyer (airline/lessor) furnished equipment was selected separately from the airframer.
Airbus has established a third category for A350 called Airbus Contracted Supplier (ACS), a hybrid of BFE and SFE, to "ensure suppliers participate in the joint definition phase of the programme and understand the design language of the cabin early on."
While the primary focus remains on the -900 variant, which is still targeted for final assembly in the third quarter 2011, first flight in 2012 and a 2013 entry into service, Airbus is pushing ahead on the design of the smaller A350-800, due for EIS in 2014, and the stretched A350-1000 in 2015. Airbus has opted for a traditional shrink of the -800 over the -900, rather than a structurally optimized version.
The A350-1000, which aims to take on the 777-300ER, is a far more ambitious variant than the -800, distancing itself from the family's system commonality, requiring 93,000lbs of thrust from the Trent XWB (compared with 84,000lbs on the -900), and changes that will includes a beefed up fan structure, different materials and a fine tuned airflow in the engine's bespoke core. Additionally, Airbus has added an expanded wing trailing edge for improved approach speed, noise performance and maximum takeoff weight, as well as a modified air conditioning system and six-wheeled landing gear bogie.