EADS is to look into supplementing assembly capacity for the A350 following the increased interest for the A350-1000, the largest member of the family.

The -1000 has emerged, over the past year, from a period of dormancy with agreements from Cathay Pacific and Air Lease, while conversion of a Qatar Airways order has reinforced backing for the twinjet.

British Airways has also tentatively selected the -1000 to help replace its Boeing 747-400 fleet, and potentially provide additional capacity for Iberia.

"We've been talking about A350-1000 incremental [final assembly line] capacity," says EADS chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm. "No decision has been taken on that yet.

"This is clearly on the radar screen for later this year. And with such important endorsements [from high-profile carriers] on the -1000 we feel encouraged to look into that."

Wilhelm has not indicated how EADS and Airbus might increase assembly capacity. Boeing established a second US-based line for the 787 at Charleston.

"On the level of demand we've seen recently [for the A350-900 and -1000] there would be a very clear business case for an accelerated ramp-up," says Wilhelm.

"But we have to [trade] incremental potential and the risk we'd take on board."

Airbus unveiled its newly-painted A350-900 flight-test prototype, MSN1, on 13 May and Wilhelm says the rest of the test fleet is "coming in progressively".

MSN3 is already in final assembly and Airbus is preparing MSN2 to enter the Toulouse line "soon", he adds.

"All in all we're making good progress on that," he says. "These aircraft need to be completed pretty quickly throughout the year, to have the full flight-test aircraft population up in the air progressively through the year and early in 2014."

He says that while there is a "lot of emphasis" on MSN1 to prepare for the maiden flight, there is "very much" focus on the rest of the test fleet. "We didn't forget about them, but it remains very tight and challenging," says Wilhelm.

EADS says there are still "significant" ground tests to be performed on MSN1 and, while it will be handed to the flight-test centre "not a long time from now", the manufacturer is not giving away details of the schedule.

"We don't want to disturb the operation with too many people hanging around the fence spotting," he says. "We are focused on executing it rather than celebrating it."

He says Airbus not focusing on any particular date. "The key thing is the maturity of first flight. It opens the flight-test campaign."

While EADS is "confident" of flying the aircraft this summer, and progress on development has been "very encouraging", Wilhelm says production of the A350 test fleet and preparation for the industrial ramp-up "remains a tough ride".

"We're pleased to see that, over the last weeks and months, we could stick to the schedule," he says. "For quite a number of months now we are operating inside [the schedule], again without margin, but [with] no further drift - and that's good news."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news