Airbus's description of its A350 final assembly line as being similar to a Lego set might be somewhat simplistic, but it illustrates a crucial point: the airframer wants to ensure complexity is minimised as the structures come together in the end stages.
It is a plan that aims to avoid the mayhem of early A380 production, during which incomplete, out-of-sequence sections jammed the line. Airbus swears it has learned from that painful experience, but its confidence will be tested as it brings together the components for its first flying prototype, MSN1, with just a 12-month window in which to meet its maiden flight target.
The first A350-900 will take to the air "close to the middle of next year", says programme head Didier Evrard. Service entry is intended during the first half of 2014, but Evrard points out that this is likely to be "closer to the middle of 2014 than to the beginning".
This statement underlines the continuing pressure on schedule margins for the programme, which has been repeatedly labelled as "challenging" by both Airbus and its parent EADS. By adopting a risk-reduction strategy that prioritises component maturity, the manufacturer hopes that any deviations from the schedule - such as the three-month slip to starting final assembly - will be less costly than well-intentioned but ill-judged hastiness...
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