Airbus aims to meet the A350's mid-2013 service-entry target by compressing the flight-test programme into 12 months, after revealing that it has burnt up some of the development programme's " buffer".

The A350-900's 12-month, 2,600h flight-test programme will begin in mid-2012 with the maiden flight of the first of five development aircraft.

The date for the first flight has slipped by three months because of development delays in the aircraft's structural design, but Airbus is confident it can meet the mid-2013 service entry target for launch customer Qatar Airways by reducing the original 15-month test programme by three months.

"We've got five aircraft in the flight-test programme - which is more than we usually have," says A350 chief engineer Gordon McConnell.

He says that the original 15-month plan had been generous - some customers had questioned why it would take Airbus so long - and the airframer has been running projects with its flight-test and engineering teams to devise ways of compressing it.

A350-900 flight test plan

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One example is the flight manual process, says McConnell: "In the past we've done the aerodynamic testing to freeze the configuration, then the performance testing, and then built the flight manual. We've been working to make that a more concurrent effort."

The flight manual will now be built ahead of flight testing and will then be checked during flight-testing, with adjustments being made when necessary. "We've been able to save quite a lot of time on that critical path," he says.

The first two A350s to fly (MSN001 and 003) will be heavily instrumented. MSN001 will undertake all of the flight-envelope opening at the beginning of programme, to enable the aerodynamic and flight-control configurations to be frozen.

"MSN003 will be more devoted to performance and systems testing, but the two aircraft will be interchangeable because they have the same instrumentation," says McConnell.

The third A350 to fly will be MSN002, which will have a cabin installed. "We'll fly that early in the programme so we can do proper operational testing on the cabin and deliver a mature aircraft to customers," says McConnell.

MSN004 and 005 will undertake operational tests and extended twin-engine operations trials towards the end of the programme, with Airbus planning to have up to four of the first five aircraft airborne before end-2012.

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Source: Flight International