Published reports indicate that Zodiac Aerospace is making headway in its production shortfalls for both lavatories and seats that have negatively impacted Airbus A350 deliveries and caused a build-up of unfinished aircraft at the Toulouse facility. The company plans to be back at operational performance by the end of 2017. Does this translate to continued delays for the A350 program over the coming year, and to what extent will Airbus miss its planned production rates?
Zodiac lavatories are built at its Cypress, California factory. This facility had “enormous difficulties in ramping up” according to a company spokesman. As an interim solution, Zodiac has created an additional production line at its Montreal, Quebec facility that typically manufactures lavatories for the business aircraft market, which is currently suffering a downturn making additional capacity available. While they are delivering products to Airbus, the company is reportedly still suffering from quality issues “that are undetectable by a naked eye.” As ramping up a new production line is not trivial, and the learning curve is steep, we don’t expect a solution to this issue before 2017.
The Zodiac facility in Santa Maria, California is the primary source for composite outer shells for business class seats. Apparently, a certification issue, similar to one that happened previously on the Boeing 787, emerged that Zodiac’s engineers were not “seasoned” enough to correct, with a resulting delay impacting production. Apparently, someone in senior management failed, for a second time, and unlike on the 787, was unable this time to hide behind a program that was delayed for other reasons.
Facilities in Saint-Crepin-Ibouvillers, France and Camberely, England, as well as “external” sources will relieve the backlog for the composite outer shells once certification is resolved. But even simple certification changes take a lot of paperwork, testing, and time to complete. As seats must meet G-force requirements, testing is required, even for small modifications. Regulators are aware of the issues, and unlikely to allow any corners to be cut, despite the “rush” situation and desire for a rapid resolution.
The economy seats shortfall, resulting from a strike in 2014, is being abated as production at the Gainsville, Texas facility is now back to normal.
Compounding Zodiac’s image and quality reputation, an Airworthiness Directive was issued for a design flaw that could result in passengers being thrown forward during an impact. This has resulted in a modification to more than 10,000 seats currently installed on aircraft to avoid their removal and replacement. This reflects poorly on Zodiac’s quality and design expertise. Because seats are buyer furnished equipment, Zodiac needs to sell to airlines rather than Airbus, and deal directly with them for the consequences of delays.
The company indicated that it aims at being back on “operational performance” by the end of 2017, some 15 months from now. That will certainly be an unacceptable time frame for Airbus, which is seeking additional interior suppliers for the A350 program. Unfortunately, in the short-term, they are stuck with the existing supplier, Zodiac, which continues to under-perform. The new information on other plants picking up the slack indicates the depth of the initial problems that should never had occurred. Now we understand more fully why Airbus disqualified Zodiac as a supplier for the A330neo program.