A350 MSN 2 (F-WWCF) and MSN 4 (F-WZNW) in flight. Photo: Airbus
MSN 2 & MSN 4 take to the skies for the first time; A350 performance penalties on the first few airplanes; Timelines more important than performance; A350 program gets costlier:why; A320 production ramp up.
Today marks four things: The Airbus Group press conference, the first flight of MSN2, the first flight of MSN4, and the Airbus announcement of the Airbus A320 production ramp-up.
On 2nd January, 2014, EADS, which comprised Airbus, Eurocopter, Cassidian, and Astrium, was been rebranded as “Airbus Group". The Airbus Group press conference must not be confused with the Airbus press conference, which was held on 13th January, 2014. But, very obviously, Airbus was discussed today.
Aviation Week today reported that “Airbus Group is taking a €434 million extraordinary charge in its 2013 results for the A350 program" due to “higher than expected recurring costs for the new widebody aircraft". Airbus, unlike Bombardier: the only other airliner airframer to be engaged in a flight test campaign of an all-new aircraft, has ensured that the program has stuck to schedule, at any cost. And that cost, for now, is an added Euro 434M.
A very interesting insight provided in an article in Aviation Week, in August 2012, which was highlighted today by Rupa Haria, quoted Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, “If you are missing important milestones, you get beaten up by the financial markets or your customers. . . . You want to meet time guarantees more than performance guarantees."
In other words, the first few airplanes won’t be as good as those that will roll out of the line later.
Which also means that the Airbus A350 airplanes that took to the skies today, F-WWCF(MSN2) and F-WZNW(MSN4), could have benefitted from the later roll out at a cost: the cost to Airbus and its suppliers, who have to manufacture different variants of the same part, for the sake of keeping up with the program schedule. Different variants are due to part/product maturity which comes eventually with time. The most important reason for maturing the part is to result in weight savings, which impact the performance guarantees that Richard Aboulafia was talking about. The financial implications arising out of these performance penalties incurred by the first few operators of the A350, will be passed on to Airbus. This also affects the resale value of the first few aircraft, even with modifications that will be effected on the aircraft in service.
Such relatively immature aircraft, very obviously, come cheap to the airlines, but attract higher subsequent costs of ownership.
According to Aviation Week, there will be three batches of Airbus A350s, based on the design changes, and consequently, performance.
F-WWCF is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage. Hence the registration, F-WW"CF", for Carbon Fibre.
MSN 2 will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers" will be Airbus employees. The eye-candy A350 will do well for promotions, especially when it lands at airports outside Toulouse, and even Europe.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 4 joins MSN 1 and 3, the first two airplanes to have taken to the skies, in being those three airplanes dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation. The aircraft has on its fuselage the logo of Qatar Airways, and “A350 XWB Launch Customer".
It will, however, only be MSN 6 which will be delivered to Qatar Airways. MSN 6 is already in the A350 Final Assembly Line (FAL). This aircraft is expected to take to the skies in the October of 2014, and delivered less than a month later.
Composite image generated from Flight Radar 24
Singapore Airlines will receive MSN 8, the third aircraft intended for commercial operations. Vietnam Airlines will receive MSN 14, and Finnair MSN 18. The 21st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-800, and the 41st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-1000.
MSN 2 and MSN 4 flew together in formation close to the southern border of France, over the Pyrenees mountains, for a photo shoot.
A320s in production. Photo: Airbus
While one program bleeds the finances, the proven narrowbody family: a proven market that allows airliner manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to not only earn their bread but offset costs from other programs.
The A320 program is ramping up production, as announced today by Airbus, to 46 a month in Q2 2016, up from the current rate 42. The new higher production rate will be achieved gradually, with an intermediate step at 44 aircraft per month in Q1 2016.
“Based on the healthy market outlook for our best-selling A320 Family and following a comprehensive assessment of our supply chain’s readiness to ramp-up, we are ready to go to rate 46 by Q2 2016," said Tom Williams, Executive Vice President Programmes. “With a record backlog of over 4,200 A320 Family aircraft and the growing success of the NEO, we have a solid case to increase our monthly output to satisfy our customers’ requirement for more of our fuel efficient aircraft."
Over the past five years, Airbus has steadily increased A320 Family production, going from rate 36 at the end of 2010 to rate 38 in August 2011, then up to rate 40 in Q1 2012 to reach 42 per month in Q4 of the same year.
Just when the 747-8’s production rate was ramped down at its Everett facility (state of Washington), Boeing announced that the 737’s production rate will be ramped up at its Renton, Washington facility , from its existing 38 airplanes per month, to 42 per month in the first half of 2014, and next 47 airplanes per month in 2017, the highest rate ever for its best-selling airliner. Boeing currently has more than 3,400 unfilled orders across the 737 family, which includes the 737Max.
Airbus, in contrast, has 4,223 unfilled orders across the Airbus A320 family, which includes the A320NEO. Across its global production facilities, Airbus already produces 42 airplanes a month since 2012, the highest-ever rate for any commercial aircraft, and has no immediate plans for a production ramp up over concerns of supply chain fragility.
The A320 Family is produced on two Airbus assembly lines in Europe: Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany; which have been complemented by an additional facility in China. Toulouse is home to the initial assembly line, building A320s; Hamburg has responsibility for the A318, A319 and A321; while Tianjin assembles A319s and A320s.
Tianjin is Airbus’ first assembly facility located outside of Europe, resulting from a joint venture involving Airbus with a Chinese consortium comprising the Tianjin Free Trade Zone (TJFTZ) and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC).
Joining this network will be a new A320 Family production facility in Mobile, Alabama USA, which is to build A319, A320 and A321 jetliners beginning in 2015.
Boeing, however, produces the Boeing 737 only at its Renton facility.
Airbus states that the assembly of MSN5, the fifth and final member of the A350 XWB flight test fleet in the test flight campaign is now underway with the fuselage joining process. This follows the recent arrival of the three fuselage sections at the A350 XWB final assembly line (FAL) in Toulouse, France.
MSN5 is the second of the A350 flight test aircraft that will feature a passenger cabin. MSN 2 and MSN 5 will have the cabin fitted, where Airbus will put passengers on board, with cabin crew. It is for the first time in the history of Airbus that so early in the campaign 2 aircraft have been dedicated to the cabin. Earlier, aircraft would be dedicated about 2 months before the entry into service. Associated with that are delays, a lot of complaints from passengers, and a difficulty of entry into service. This was witnessed in the A320 and the A340 programs.
This aircraft will fly for the first time in Spring 2014 and will be used essentially to perform cabin related flight tests. It will also participate in the Early Long Flights where the “passengers" are Airbus employees. This allows the cabin and related systems to be submitted to near realistic operations in order to ensure a mature cabin at entry into service. In addition, MSN5 will carry out Route Proving flights to demonstrate to the certification authorities that the aircraft performs perfectly in airport operations.
To date the two A350 XWB test aircraft, MSN1 and MSN3 have clocked up over 500 flight test hours in more than 100 test flights. The A350 XWB has already won more than 760 firm orders from 39 customers worldwide. First delivery will be to Qatar Airways in the second half of 2014.
Boeing announced that it will adjust the production rate for the 747-8 program from 1.75 airplanes to 1.5 airplanes per month through 2015 because of lower market demand for large passenger and freighter airplanes.
“This production adjustment better aligns us with near-term demand while stabilizing our production flow, and better positions the program to offer the 747-8’s compelling economics and performance when the market recovers,” said Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager, 747 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Although we are making a small adjustment to our production rate, it doesn’t change our confidence in the 747-8 or our commitment to the program.”
The company expects long-term average growth in the air cargo market to begin returning in 2014, and forecasts global demand for 760 large airplanes (such as the 747-8) over the next 20 years, valued at $280 billion. The large aircraft market is unpredictable, but Boeing had attempted to predict it during the A380 program: that the market was shifting away from very large airplanes to smaller ones. In 2012, Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing vice president Randy Tinseth had said, referring to historic statistics “demand has been met by more flights to more places, rather than by bigger aircraft." He pointed out that the outlook figure for large-aircraft demand had fallen.
The trend is toward lower capacity, large twin engine aircraft that are more fuel efficient and cost effective.
Lufthansa is already considering an early 747-8 retirement, replacing it with the 777-9X. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has stated his preference for a twin over a quad jet, simply because of the inherent efficiencies.
To date, the 747-8 has accumulated 107 orders for passenger and cargo versions, 56 of which have been delivered. Of these, the 747-8I, the passenger version, has orders for only 40 units, of which 17 have been delivered. 9 have been delivered to Lufthansa, the only airline operator of the type, and 8 to VIP customers: Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, Royal Flight Oman, State of Kuwait, Qatar Amiri Flight (3), and the United Arab Emirates Government.
The first delivery at the new production rate is expected in early 2014. According to Boeing, The production rate change is not expected to have a significant financial impact.
Airbus has planned the first flight of the A350 on the 14th of June, 2013: 2 days from now. The scheduled time of A350 MSN001’s first flight is 0800hrs UTC (1000hrs Toulouse 1330hrs IST). Airbus claims, with this announcement, that the A350 program is on schedule, with entry-into-service expected in the second half of 2014. This is an interesting statement, considering that in the September of 2010, Airbus had expected the delivery of the first A350 in 2013.
The Airbus A350 is a result of the pressure exerted by airlines on Airbus, in the face of the Boeing 787’s “threat” to the Airbus A330. The A350 program was formally announced towards the end of the end of 2004, but it was only in mid 2006 that Airbus, after facing criticism for a derivative of the A330 rather than a whole new clean sheet design, announced the A350XWB: an all new airplane. In essence, the A350XWB project is a forced response from Airbus to Boeing’s 787 program.
MSN001 is an A350-941, bearing registration F-WXWB. The A350-900’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB Engines are the largest that will be fitted on an Airbus airliner, producing 374kN (almost 37,500kg force) of thrust, each. The A350-900 has the typical seating capacity of the Boeing 777-200 (314 pax in a 3 class layout), and the range of the 787-9 (~8100NM), serving as, what seems now to be the plug between the two. Observed Lufthansa’s CEO Christoph Franz, “Because of pressure mainly by the fast growing Gulf carriers, both Airbus and Boeing are being pushed to design aircraft with more range capabilities and engine power than needed by most other operators. European airlines therefore have to deal with over designed aircraft that carry additional unneeded weight”.
Here is the timeline of major developments in the life of MSN001:
January 2009: A350 XWB Design is “frozen".
November 2010: The longest fuselage panel for Airbus’ A350 XWB completes its curing process.
March 2011: The largest composite fuselage panel for Airbus’ A350 XWB completes its curing process.
July 2011: Production on a key component in the A350 XWB’s initial horizontal tail plane begins, at Airbus’ centre of excellence in Puerto Real, Spain.
August 2011: The first A350 XWB centre wing box is delivered from Airbus’ site in Nantes, France to Airbus’ St Nazaire, France facility where it eventually is assembled into the first A350 XWB fuselage.
September 2011: Wing upper cover manufactured at Airbus’ Stade, Germany is transported to Airbus’ wing assembly site in Broughton, UK. The lower wing cover made in Illescas, Spain arrives in Broughton. The first A350 XWB nose section is transported to Airbus in St Nazaire from partner company Aerolia’s site in Méaulte. Airbus aerostructures partner Premium Aerotec puts together the first forward fuselage for the A350 XWB at Nordenham, Germany.
October 2011: Airbus completes installation of the first Rolls-Royce Trent XWB flight test engine on the A380 “flying-testbed" aircraft. Airbus starts the assembly of the first A350 XWB’s horizontal tailplane (HTP) in Getafe, Spain.
November 2011: Assembly of the first A350 XWB’s 32-metre-long carbon fibre wings begins at Airbus’ recently-opened North Factory in Broughton, UK. Pre-assembly of ribs, upper and lower covers and fixed leading and trailing edges already has taken place.
December 2011: Airbus starts joining the first 21-metre long front fuselage section for the A350 XWB in Saint-Nazaire, France.
February 2012: The A350 XWB’s Rolls-Royce Trent XWB successfully makes its maiden flight aboard Airbus’ dedicated A380 “Flying-Test-Bed" aircraft.
March 2012: Structural assembly of the first A350 XWB aft fuselage destined for the first flying A350 XWB (MSN1) is completed at Airbus’ manufacturing site in Hamburg (Germany).
July 2012: Airbus delivers the front fuselage for the first flyable A350 XWB (MSN1) to the Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Toulouse (France).
August 2012: A350 XWB “MSN1" flight-deck comes to life. Flight-deck power-on is an important step on the route to complete aircraft power-on and first flight, because it enables most systems functional checking to be undertaken.
October 2012: The vertical tail plane of the first flyable A350 XWB (MSN1) has comes out of the paint hall in Toulouse.
November 2012: The wing join-up started in the Roger Béteille Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Toulouse. The wings are attached to the fuselage and other finishing activities such as the spoilers are installed.
December 2012: Airbus successfully completes the main structural assembly and system connection of A350 XWB ‘MSN1’ – the first flight-test aircraft.
February 2013: A350 XWB’s Trent XWB engine achieves EASA type certification. First A350 XWB with wings complete emerges for outdoor testing.
March 2013: Airbus installs Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines and Honeywell APU on A350 XWB MSN001.
May 2013: First A350 XWB painting completed in Toulouse
June 2013: First A350 XWB’s engines powered up.
June 14th, 2013: First Flight Expected with 6 member flight crew.
Airbus has announced that its Airbus A330 production rate has touched 10 aircraft a month, which is significant for a wide body airliner, and the highest production rate of any Airbus widebody aircraft.
Airbus claims that the Airbus A330 is “the most popular in its category". A330 Programme head Patrick Piedrafita said more than 800 sales have been logged since Airbus’ competitor launched its 787, validating the A330’s sustained competitiveness. That statement is vague.
The 767-300ER, and the 767-400ER, together have 621 orders, of which only 9 are unfulfilled. These two models compete with the A330-200 in capacity, but fall short in range by more than 1,500NM. There are totally 575 orders for the Airbus A330-200. Yes, the Airbus wins considering it is a younger airplane and offers more range and capacity. Then, the 787 was introduced to replace the 767 and compete against the popular A330-200.
But the Boeing 787-8 has orders for 535 airplanes, of which 50 have been delivered. If the 787’s issues are resolved, and it re-enters service and production, it quickly eclipses the popularity of the Airbus A330-200: It offers a lot more, for the same price as the shorter Airbus A330, while offering the same range and passenger capacity. Which explains the orders for the 787-8. The 787, was introduced in service in 2011, while the A330 entered service in 1992. Considering this gap, the 787’s sales performance is way better, underlining its competitiveness. If A330 Programme head Patrick Piedrafita says the A330 is still competitive, he must realize that if the 787 program ran smooth, the A330-200 line would have closed. It isn’t the 787, but the 787 program that still makes the A330-200 a safe bet.
And yes, he must be reminded that the A330-300 is a different aircraft.
The Airbus A330-300 competes against the Boeing 777-200 and 777-200ER aircraft. It has the same passenger capacity (440 max pax), but has a range that falls in between the -200 and the -200ER variant. The 777-200 and the -200ER together have orders for 510 airplanes, while the A330-300 has a order book total of 622 airplanes. The A330 family does not compete with the other 777 models (-200LR, -300, -300ER). The Boeing 777-200LR, 777-300 and 777-300ER compete with the Airbus A340-500 and -600, which are now out of production.
Although the A330-300 boasts a range similar to the 777-300, it falls short in maximum passenger capacity by 110 passengers. The A330-300 costs lesser than the 777-200 and 200ER aircraft, and is cheaper to operate. Yes, the Airbus 330 is a lot more competitive than competing 777 models, and stands as the best aircraft in its category, but that doesn’t mean it is more competitive than the 787.
Infact, the A330-300 is a lot more popular than the A330-200. But Airbus can’t compare the A330-300 with the 787. Apples and Oranges don’t look, smell, and taste alike, even if they have 2 wings and two engines.