Farnborough: Airbus fightback begins with big A350 changes

Farnborough
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By Kieran Daly at the Farnborough air show

 

New Airbus head Christian Streiff will today reveal first details of the $10 billion revamped A350 aircraft programme as the battered company sets about the huge task of restoring its credibility in the marketplace.

Stunned by the triple blow of new delays to the A380, the market’s disastrous reception of the A350 and turmoil in its executive ranks, the European giant for once comes to Farnborough firmly on the back foot.

The leadership of its parent EADS admitted over the weekend that there had been unacceptable failings, but programme officials now plan to come out fighting.

They believe they have a handle on the A380’s troubles and also that Boeing’s early market success with the 787 will now slow, giving them a renewed chance to hit back with the improved A350.

Speaking at an EADS briefing in Bath at the weekend, EADS German co-chief executive Tom Enders said: “The management crisis or difficulty is over – almost for two weeks. But undoubtedly the reputation of this company has suffered. So has the confidence of customers and investors. Sure, we admit that. And the project that precipitated this crisis needs to be fixed.

“You can be sure that the new Airbus chief executive will present the new A350 at the airshow on Monday. The product specification is complete, but details will come from Christian Streiff.

“We are admitting that we have considerable difficulties on the A380. We were admitting that a year ago when we announced delays of six months. The team worked to get that under control. They failed. We should not harbour the delusions that coming in we can fix it overnight.

“But the teams at Airbus will work throughout the summer and when we feel comfortable then we will communicate that.”

His French partner chief executive Louis Gallois, the former Aerospatiale and Snecma chief brought in to replace Noël Forgeard, added: “We have common virtues - we like transparency, team spirit and action. I think we have talked too much about management and the position now is that we have to deliver. It is the best way to communicate confidence, serenity and dynamism. We seek more stability, we need more stability.

“Customers are not asking for a miracle, they want visibility on where we are and our milestones. They want us to stick to our milestones. They know that the A380 is a huge challenge.”

Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice-president programmes, told the same audience that customers were angry at the A380 delays caused by unexpected problems with the complexity of the aircraft’s wiring and knock-on effects.

He said: “The first actions were taken last year to resolve bottlenecks, but they were not sufficient. You can imagine that customer reactions have been very bad. So it is a significant problem with a very strong reaction from customers.”

He outlined seven key measures taken to address the situation:

  • A slowing of production
  • Improved section completion prior to final assembly
  • Added resource where necessary
  • Tougher management of changes to the aircraft
  • Streamlining of processes to cut build-time
  • Improvements to the CATIA-based digital mock-up
  • Increased reactivity of suppliers

Williams thinks some problems were reported late because staff were desperate to fix them, explaining: “You sometimes get people who too early say ‘this cannot be done’ but sometimes also they get target lock, and they don’t want to give up, and you have to say ‘look it is just not going to work’.”

He rubbishes widespread reports blaming the shortcomings on Airbus’s German operation, declaring: “The reason is that is where the most complex work takes place. Those guys are at the end of the pipe and there are a lot of problems that happen at that stage where that guy has to find a way to solve the problem. It is too easy to blame him when the problem is further upstream.”

On the A350, he admits Airbus is now late to market but notes that Boeing cannot now offer airlines early delivery, and says: “[Boeing] have very few gaps left. They have taken the first part of the 757/767 replacement wave. But that doesn’t mean to say they have totally dominated it.

“We accept that those airlines that have taken the 787 are unlikely to switch. But we still have a very good case. We are not going to give up on the market.”