They say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is no argument that Airbus’ A350 is a beautiful airplane. The roll out of MSN001, fresh from the paint shop, is an important milestone. Airbus reports the painting was completed in less than seven days and followed recent completion of MSN001’s flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) verification. Last month the aircraft underwent engine installation and passed a subsequent intensive phase of ground vibration tests. MSN001 will soon start the final tests before its maiden flight this summer.
The A350 program will become one of the company’s most important. The following table lists orders for the A350 compared with all Airbus orders since program inception.
The program started off very well, accounting for a fifth of Airbus’ orders during the first two years it was offered. Orders then slowed down as the program started to get into the development phase and ran into what have now become normal delays. There are interesting parallels with the 787 program. Also accounting about as fifth of orders in its first two years, the 787 saw a slowing in orders after the airplane’s first flight (December 2009). The A350 has seen a faster order turnaround (to date from its order slump) than the 787, and should continue to gain momentum with first flight just a few months away. Airbus is coy about first flight, but there are rumors of a fly-by at the upcoming Paris Show.
It would appear at this stage that Airbus learned from the tough lessons from the A380 program. There have been delays to this program, but not nearly as extensive or traumatic as those from A380.
We hope that since the A350 program reached this stage of its development faster than the A380, there are no more serious hiccups to come. The recent Kuwait Airways order for ten A350s, following shortly after a large order from British Airways, appear to show airline confidence that Airbus has learned its lessons and that the program is not expected to see further delays. Indeed, Airbus has seen a steady stream of orders come in for the A350, and it would appear the program is building some momentum. Airlines are rightly wary of committing to programs until they are stable.
Boeing had its share of traumatic delays on the 787. Delays are lessons that have been seared into the production teams at both OEMs. Just as Airbus has apparently gotten its “Mojo” back with the A350, we expect to see Boeing similarly succeed with the 787-10X and 777X as those programs start to gather momentum.
With milestones upcoming for A350, CSeries, and 787-9 this year, it will be interesting to see if the OEMs bring the programs in on schedule. From what we are hearing about all three programs, things are looking up again for the airframe manufacturers and on-time performance.