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 September 2006
 

AIRBUS UNVEILS A350 XWB

By Sebastian Steinke

At his first major public appearance at the Farnborough Air Show, Christian Streiff, the new CEO of Airbus, made a point of emphasising continuity despite the change of personnel at the helm of the company. “Gustav Humbert promised you that we would unveil our new A350 no later than this air show and I intend to honour his promise. However, I have only been in my new post for two weeks and since then I have been in vertical takeoff mode, with full thrust, plenty of noise and fast tempo. But it will not remain so. We want to return to greater clarity and composure. What we need now is not haste but fast action. I am convinced that we will surmount the difficulties. The key is to regain the confidence of our customers and shareholders.”

A350 XWB

The Frenchman went on to present a completely new family of twinjets, quite different from the present A350 design, although he does not plan to formally authorise it until the beginning of October to allow himself time to get up to speed in his new post. “I want my 100 days before I press the button.” On the other hand development work would continue over the summer holidays, without any interruption, he said. He was expecting to stick to the promised in-service date of mid-2012.

As a completely new design, with a 5.91m fuselage diameter accommodating a full nine Economy seats in each row, the new A350 XWB (“Extra Wide Body”) lives up to its name. This compares with the present A330/A340 family, which has a fuselage diameter of 5.64m. For the original A350 design Airbus was only proposing to offer a few more centimetres' shoulder room for the passengers by using flattened stringers.

But even more remarkable on the XWB is the departure from the round cross-section of the fuselage which has been standard on every Airbus model since the A300. Instead, we now have an oval-shaped fuselage with steeper side walls, large cabin windows and an additional overhead area which will accommodate rest rooms for flight attendants above the back of the main cabin, as on the Boeing 777 and 787.

The carbon fibre wing, now more pronouncedly swept back at 33º and with sabre-like upwardly bent wingtip, has a completely new design and will permit a higher cruise speed of Mach 0.85, compared with the present Mach 0.82 on the A330. This will mean that the A350 XWB flies at exactly the same speed as an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 787 and a little faster than the Boeing 777 (Mach 0.84).

The A350 XWB is to be the first of a new family of long-haul aircraft. As well as the A350-800 XWB for 270 passengers in a two-class configuration, there will also be a stretched version, the A350-900 XWB, for 314 passengers and an even longer A350-1000 XWB for 350 passengers. As John Leahy, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Operating Officer – Customers, explained, “The A350-1000 will be the A340's successor.”

In addition, a future A350-900R XWB with extended range for ultra-long routes and a A350-900F freighter plane have already been announced for the new twin-jet family. The A350-900 XWB stretched version will be the first member of the family to be delivered even before the A350-800 XWB, commencing in 2012.

EADS co-CEO Tom Enders suggested that development of the new A350 XWB would cost around $10 billion. This means that EADS will be now paying about twice as much for its high-tech frontal assault on Boeing's attractive rival models, the 787 and 777, as for the A350 as originally proposed, which was based closely on the A330. To reduce costs, the XWB cockpit concept incorporates the A380's head-up displays and associated systems. The rest room for relief pilots directly below the cockpit that was included in the previous version of the A350 is to be retained and will thus be safely separated from the passenger cabin.

The use of a single wing for all members of the family is likely to constitute a major technical challenge. Rolls-Royce has already been named as the first engine supplier, but Airbus expressly wants to have a second manufacturer offering an alternative engine.

However, the obvious second supplier, General Electric, is apparently tied to Boeing through an exclusive agreement in the GE 90 thrust-class which would be required for the A350-1000 XWB and the later A350-900R XWB. For the lighter A350-800 XWB and probably also the regular A350-900 XWB, engines based on the GE Next Generation (GEnx) with bleed air should be available.

For, unlike the Boeing 787, the A350 XBW continues to use bleed air for its air conditioning and anti-icing since, according to Airbus's calculations, purely electrical systems add to the maintenance costs with virtually no cost or weight advantages. Through improved selection of materials, especially composites and aluminium lithium which together account for 62 percent, Airbus plans to reduce the Aircraft empty weight per seat on the A350 XWB to 14 percent below that of the Boeing 777 and even two percent below that of the extremely light carbon fibre competitor, the Boeing 787. On the other hand the A350-XWB fuselage will not be constructed entirely from carbon fibre. Reliable details on the choice of materials are not likely to be available until the official programme launch at the beginning of October.

Airbus is already promising that fuel consumption for the A350 XWB will be six percent lower than on the Boeing 787 and as much as 30 percent lower than on the Boeing 777. Seat mile costs are expected to be eight percent better than on the 787 and 25% better than on the 777.

What do the customers think about the latest Airbus design? Probably the most important single aircraft purchaser in the world is Steven Udvar-Hazy, Chairman and CEO of the ILFC leasing company, whose widebody aircraft fleet alone currently numbers 300. It was he who originally set the ball rolling with his public criticism of the first A350 (see FLUG REVUE 6/2006). At the Farnborough Air Show Udvar-Hazy had this to say about the latest variant:

“They are doing more or less exactly what we wanted. They had to get away from the A300 fuselage. The higher cruise speed was also necessary as otherwise, with today's ranges, they would always arrive at the destination one to two hours later. However, I have not yet seen the sales prices.” Despite his positive overall judgement, Udvar-Hazy expects that some of his customers who need new aircraft in the near future will choose the Boeing 787 rather than the redesigned A350, which will not be available until 2012, even if many of them in principle prefer Airbus.

One surprising event which could turn out to be critical for the project occurred on the last day of the Farnborough Air Show when Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced the first A350 XWB major order on top of the 182 preliminary agreements and declarations of intent inherited from the “old” A350. This airline, which is globally much noticed on account of its highly sophisticated procurement strategy, issued a declaration of intent to purchase 20 A350-900 XWB's plus a further 20 options. Deliveries are scheduled for 2012 to 2014. For the transitional period SIA is to lease an additional 19 Airbus A330-300's from early in 2009. It still plans to purchase the 20 Boeing 787's ordered on the date on which the recent A380 delivery delays were announced.

The A380 has also received a follow-on order from SIA: nine existing options have been converted to firm orders with relatively early delivery positions in 2008, while nine new options have been taken up. SIA Chief Executive Officer Chew Choon Seng stated, “Airbus has convinced us that the design of the A380 has been perfected. The A380 has proven itself in flight tests and as regards certification, and the delays arose more on the production side than because of technical problems.”

Airbus CEO Christian Streiff is also concentrating his attention on the A380. “I am currently spending about half my working time on the A380, about eight hours a day. We are behind with deliveries, and we are very annoyed with ourselves. We will do everything we can to improve the delivery timetable. I intend to verify every aspect of the A350 XWB so that we can draw the appropriate lessons from the A380. We intend to use this crisis to become better.”

From page 26 of FLUG REVUE 9/2006
 


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