Aerostructures manufacturer GKN Aerospace has delivered its first set of A350 composite wing spars and trailing edges to the Airbus wing assembly plant at Broughton, Cheshire, where the first wings for the new widebody twin are being assembled.

GKN, which bought the wing components manufacturing facility at Airbus's Filton site in January 2009, has since built a separate, dedicated factory for its A350 work 8km (5mi) from the Filton plant.

The new site will ultimately house five of the world's biggest automated carbonfibre laying machines, capable of turning out 90 of the 20m (65ft)-long wing spars a month for shipment to the Broughton plant for assembly.

GKN Aerospace technical director Richard Oldfield, who previously worked for Airbus, said that including the design and manufacture of the A380's wings, the A350 programme is the most technically challenging he has been involved in.

He added that the project has thrown up "nothing out of the ordinary" so far on the MSN1 airframe, but next year, when the plan is to produce about a dozen aircraft, a difficult ramp-up to full-rate production will begin.

"There [are] no specific issues with MSN1, just the usual things you get with a new aircraft," Oldfield said.

"The question is, how quickly you can ramp these things up? That was the issue on the A380, but this is on a different scale."

A higher build rate on an established product such as the A320 can be achieved with relative ease as "when you really understand the technology, ramping up is just an investment debate", he said. However, on the A350 the question is, "how do you ramp-up emerging technology?" he added.

Source: Flight International