Airbus parent EADS Friday (July 27) announced a three month delay in the planned Entry-into-Service, to well into the second half of 2014 instead of mid-year.
Problems with drilling holes in the wing assembly are blamed for this delay, the third and which now aggregate 15 months.
The A350 program delay attracts attention because it comes after delays in the A380 and A400M programs at Airbus and the 787 and 747-8 programs at Boeing. But what is given less attention is the steep learning curve both firms have gone through after these program delays. A little perspective is needed. A recent visit to Airbus’ A350 factory in Hamburg provided a timely perspective.
Although the factory and its people have been working with CRFP for 30 years, the scale of the parts on A350 is much larger. The factory tooling utilizes lasers for layups – the level of technology on A350 is an order of magnitude greater than on the A380. Why is this?
The answer is Airbus has learned tough lessons from the A380 program. The stress the A380 delay caused Airbus is manifest in the scars it has left managers. It was made clear to us the A350 program would be slowed down if necessary to ensure there would be minimal traveled work. Any part that comes in and does not meet specifications is not accepted. Given the long supply chain and the complexity of these parts, Airbus is taking a deliberate and measured approach to the program.
It’s not just internal lessons. Think of the 787 program. The airplane is impressive. Do people consider this when they speak of it? Most of the time media speaks of the 787, they mention it is three years late, as if this is the most important factor in the entire program. This is grossly unfair to Boeing because it has broken so much new ground in terms of technology deployment. A350 program managers have noted the lessons from the 787 and would rather slow things down now to ensure a more stable and smoother program later. Airbus will avoid the situation at Everett, where more nearly five dozen 787s are parked waiting for final fixes prior to delivery. The recent gearbox problem on the 787 was also made into something far bigger than it is because it might be another delay for the 787 – which it isn’t.
Keep the three month delay in the A350 program in perspective. This delay was brought about because the program managers wanted it. There is no problem with the design or construction plan. The technology utilized in making large CRFP parts is more impressive than the parts themselves. These machines are working with lasers to ensure accuracy. Parts are built to Swiss watch tolerances. Parts that weigh tons and are very big. The delay is appropriate and perspective helps understand that such delays could easily be expected for neo, MAX and even CSeries. This is how aerospace construction is these days.