Airbus rolls out A350 XWB design revisions

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Design revision to A350 XWB follows criticism from potential customers and includes a reshaped nose, while metal fuselage crossbeams may also go composite

Existing and potential Airbus A350 XWB family customers have been shown a raft of design revisions, including a new nose shape and changes to the structural make-up of the fuselage.

Flight International has learnt that the revelations were made to a gathering of around 100 representatives from existing XWB customers as well as potential clients - the latter including Air France, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa. The airframer held a two-day XWB seminar in Bordeaux in early September.

A key change is the switch from metallic to carbonfibre fuselage frames, although the fuselage crossbeams remain metallic. "These could also be switched to carbonfibre, but we're still running trade-off studies," says A350 XWB chief engineer Gordon McConnell.

The plan to use large carbonfibre fuselage panels for the main fuselage skin has not changed.

The decision to switch to carbonfibre frames comes after several of Airbus's key customers, including International Lease Finance and Emirates, had been vocal in their criticism of the XWB's fuselage construction in recent months.

"The change addresses concerns over possible corrosion risks between metallic frames and carbonfibre," says McConnell. He adds there were also "perceived maintenance programme inspection requirements" due to the metallic frames.

Airbus has also firmed up earlier proposals to reprofile and revise the XWB's nose section, adopting a configuration derived from the A380 with a forward-mounted nosegear bay and new cockpit-window glazing. The XWB now has a six-panel flightdeck windscreen similar to its big sister, unlike the more dramatic four-window arrangement that was a feature of the original XWB design.

The nose section will be constructed from aluminium lithium, with Airbus deciding against adopting a one-piece carbonfibre structure that it had been evaluating.

McConnell says that the nose reprofile was made partly for improved aerodynamics and to enable the overhead crew rest to be installed further forward and eliminate any encroachment in the passenger cabin. Strength requirements for birdstrike protection were partly behind the decision to adopt a metallic nose structure.

Airbus remains on target to reach its "freeze of aircraft concept" in October 2008. The first version of the three-model XWB family to enter service will be the 314-seat -900, in mid-2013.