Airbus works to introduce lighter A350 structure with -800 variant

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Any weight savings found as Airbus evolves the A350's structural design could be incorporated when the -800 variant arrives around a year after the debut in 2013 of the baseline -900 version.

Two areas of the A350's design that have held up production of the first aircraft - the carbonfibre fuselage's electrical structural network (ESN, which provides a return path for electrical current) and the fuselage's damage tolerance - have now been completed to enable construction to begin of A350-900 MSN001.

However, A350 programme chief Didier Evrard says that Airbus is validating the ESN and structural design to see if further improvements can be introduced on later aircraft to generate weight savings. "We have to be conservative in the first place, then [can improve] through validation," he says.

airbus a350-800, airbus
 © Airbus

While there is currently no specific airframe number in the XWB production plan at which a block change could be introduced, Evrard says that there are several "natural points: we have the first four -900 development aircraft, then we have the last development aircraft and the first deliveries, and then we have the introduction of the A350-800 one year later. So if we have opportunities, we would take the -800 introduction as the natural point of embodiment."

Evrard estimates that the first A350-800 would be around "aircraft 20".