A350-900 first flight pushed back to end-2012

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Airbus has pushed back the first flight of the A350-900 to the end of 2012 and is aiming for certification and service entry by the end of 2013 because of a delay to final assembly, disclosed in January, which will start at the end of 2011.

While Airbus planned a mid-2012 maiden flight, this seemed at odds with its intention to maintain a lead time of about nine months between final assembly and first flight.

Airbus's new timetable appears to provide a potential assembly lead time of a year, and offers a change of tone regarding entry into service - parent EADS had previously said the A350 would arrive in the second half of 2013. Pre-final assembly line initiation is being prepared at several plants - St Nazaire for the forward and centre section, Getafe and Hamburg for the fin and tail, and Broughton for the wings. All major component assembly will be under way this summer to ensure delivery to the final line at the end of this year.

However, Airbus admitted: "Significant challenges remain to reach [final assembly] start [at the] end of 2011 with an appropriate level of quality to prepare the ramp-up." Several structures - including cockpit, carbon-fibre fuselage panels and landing-gear - are complete or nearing completion.

"Systems maturity is developing well, with major test benches already in service," Airbus said.

"The first large aircraft parts are now manufactured and the focus is moving to pre-final assembly start."

Airbus has orders for 574 A350s including 359 for the -900.