The Airbus A350 program delays entry into service by another three months

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Oct 1, 2012

Last July EADS announced an additional charge of 124 million euros in relation to the program for its new commercial airliner, which has also led to a further delay for the first delivery of the A350 XWB. The shift in the schedule is the result of longer time being taken to implement a new automated drilling process for the aircraft wings at the Airbus plant in Broughton (United Kingdom). Meanwhile, the program continues to complete new milestones such as the delivery of the first vertical tailplane to the Final Assembly Line, manufactured by the Spanish company Aciturri"

A new setback has emerged for the A350 XWB, one of the most ambitious commercial aerospace programs for the coming years and the jewel in the crown for EADS’ civil aircraft ac­tivities, headed by Airbus. The European company has announced that the program will suffer a delay of various months due to further problems in the drilling and assembly process for the aircraft’s wings. Although Airbus already acknowledged that it was experiencing dif­ficulties with the wings of the A350 during the last edition of the Farn­borough Air Show, EADS officially confirmed the situation in late July when it presented its first-half results. The company has booked an additional charge of 124 million euros deriving from this latest delay under the A350 XWB program.

According to the announcement by EADS, “Entry-into-Service has moved into H2 2014 mainly due to the time taken for the implementa­tion of the automated drilling process for the wings. A charge of 124 million euros has been booked in the second quarter which accounts for the actual delay of around three months. The A350 XWB remains a challenging program and any further delays would lead to higher rates of charges,” the company highlighted.

Problems were detected in the robot responsible for drilling the holes into which the parts are inserted to attach the wings to the frame. This machine is located at the Airbus plant in Broughton (United Kingdom), where the wings are assembled using parts originating from other sites that include the Illescas plant in Toledo where the lower cover of the wing is manufactured, and Stade (Germany), which is responsible for the upper cover. The previous delay for the A350 program announced in November 2011 pushed entry into service back to mid-2014, al­though it was originally scheduled for the second quarter of 2013.

These are the dates for the A350-900, the base version which will be delivered to the first customer, Qatar Airways. EADS has not yet clarified the official dates for entry into service of the other two ver­sions, the A350-800 and A350-1000. Airbus indicated in 2011 that the first A350-800 was expected to be delivered in 2016, while the larger version would be ready mid-way through the following year.

Delivery of the first VTP

The company has indicated that this temporary setback with the wings does not pose a threat for the program, but rather a further obstacle posed by the technological complexity of this project which is one of the most important in recent years in the international aero­space industry. Indeed, the A350 program continues to advance with new deliveries by suppliers and assembly of the first airframe to be used for static ground tests and the first flight test aircraft, both of which are being developed on the Final Assembly Line in Toulouse, France. Airbus delivered the front fuselage of the first flying aircraft (MSN1) in July. This 21-meter-long component was manufactured in the French plant at Saint-Nazaire. In August the company powered up the electrical systems of the flight deck and front fuselage, while in early September the first wing from the Broughton plant was deliv­ered. With a length of 32 meters and a width of 6 meters, the wing is made from carbon fiber composite material and will be integrated on the aircraft to be used for static structural ground tests.

However, the biggest milestone for the Spanish aerospace indus­try working on the A350 program was the delivery of the first verti­cal tailplane (VTP) manufactured by Aciturri. This company based in Seville and Cádiz is responsible for the design and development of the production systems for all of the metal and composite structural elements and the electrical and hydraulic systems integrated in the aircraft's vertical tailplane, with the exception of the rudder.

Since this contract was awarded, Aciturri has steadily completed the different milestones scheduled, consisting of the design and opti­mization of the VTP elements, manufacture of the first prototypes and validation of the design and manufacturing processes. The company has implemented an intensive investment plan which will reach 110 million euros in 2013 to develop the products and processes related with the work package for the A350 and new facilities and equipment. Apart from the VTP, Aciturri is also responsible for the internal parts of section 19, which connects the aircraft fuselage with the horizontal and vertical tailplanes.

The vertical tailplane was delivered during an internal ceremony at­tended by the main suppliers of the A350 XWB program held in late August at the Stade factory, where the company will be responsible for integrating the fixed (VTP) and mobile (rudder) sections of the verti­cal tailplane for all the aircraft built. This event also marked the delivery to the FAL at Toulouse of the first complete VTP and rudder which will form part of the first flying A350.

Aciturri was represented by a delegation led by the head of the VTP program, Javier Pezzi, and the company’s CEO, Ginés Clemente. The event was also attended by Didier Evrard, A350 XWB Program Head, Rafael Gonzalez Ripoll, Director of Airbus Operations, and Carlos Me­liveo, Director of the A350 XWB program in Spain, among others. Dur­ing his speech, Evrard emphasized that the VTP developed by Aciturri for the static tests was the first one to be received at the A350 FAL in Toulouse and highlighted “the importance of this project to consolidate Spain’s image as a benchmark for the manufacture of composite parts.”