Airbus shifts emphasis from composites as Etihad acquires four development aircraft

Airbus is to focus its short-term weight-saving efforts for the A380 on greater use of aluminium lithium rather than composites. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the manufacturer has placed four of its five development aircraft with Etihad Airways once their test duties have been completed.

The company decided earlier this month to increase the use of aluminium lithium in the freighter version, which is about to complete its design definition phase ahead of its planned first flight in the first half of 2007.

Airbus senior vice-president engineering A380 programme Robert Lafontan says the decision was taken earlier this month. "We will use it in the freighter and also the passenger aircraft," he says.

Lafontan says Airbus has established the weight-saving that the move will generate, but declines to reveal details, saying only that it will be "hundreds of kilos". He says the improvements will be incorporated into series production before aircraft number 35, which is about where the first freighter slots into the build sequence.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad has confirmed that the recent order placed for four A380s will be fulfilled by early-build development aircraft. Airbus plans to dedicate five A380s to flight-test duties (MSN001, 002, 004, 007 and 009) - the first four for the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 certification effort and the last one, plus MSN007 re-engined, for the GE-P&W Engine Alliance GP7200 clearance. While MSN001 will be retained for long-term testing needs, the other four will be reworked and delivered to Etihad in 2007. The first two Etihad aircraft (MSN002 and 004) are built to an early specification and are heavier than the production-standard A380s that begin with the fourth aircraft (MSN007).

Airbus chief commercial operator John Leahy says the company is "close to announcing a major memorandum of understanding" for the A380, thought to be from China.



Source: Flight International