Airbus to ask board to approve A350 XWB in November, but delays supplier strategy briefing

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Airbus is expected to seek board approval from parent company EADS in early November to move forward with the launch of the revamped A350 XWB programme, but has meanwhile delayed a regular strategy briefing with suppliers about future products.

When it unveiled the A350 XWB at Farnborough in July, Airbus said that it intended to be ready to seek an industrial launch decision for the new programme "in three months". However, according to industry sources, Airbus has told senior planners at various suppliers that the tumult over the A380 delay, the restructuring and the changeover in leadership and other senior management have left its original plans in complete disarray.

Flight International understands that major systems and engine suppliers that were originally intending to travel to Toulouse for Airbus's regular six-monthly future products strategic planning meeting around mid-November have been told to cancel. "They have no strategic plan at the moment," says one key supplier, which does not want to be identified.

Meanwhile, the A380's production crisis has forced Airbus to increase the break-even forecast for the programme to 420 aircraft, against the 270-unit prediction made last year. The revision was revealed by Airbus chief financial officer Andreas Sperl last week at a global investor forum held by EADS. Sperl maintains the company will sell the 751 A380s previously forecast.

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation that newly appointed Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois is poised to name Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of EADS's helicopter unit Eurocopter, as his number two at the airframer. "There are discussions going on," Bregier is reported to have told journalists last week. "There is a possibility that these decisions will concern me."

In an interview last week with French daily newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Gallois said that the Airbus Power 8 cost-cutting plan created by his predecessor Christian Streiff would be needed "even without the A380 problems...simply to tackle the weakness of the dollar". He added that the weak dollar has resulted in Airbus losing "20% of our competitiveness to Boeing since the launch of the A380 programme in 2000", and that the "very future of Airbus is in the balance" without the cost-cutting effort.