August 2012

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Aerolia, once Airbus, delivers nose section for first A350 (Update1)

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Yesterday, Aerolia loaded the nose section of MSN1, the first A350 XWB, at its Méaulte, France facility onto a heavily modified A300-600ST Beluga. The structure is the "face" of the new long-range jetliner from Airbus, which is slated to enter final assembly before the end of the year. The construction of the nose section, which is a metal-composite hybrid structure, is made up of 40% composites, 55% aluminium/aluminium-lithium and 5% titanium.
Unlike the cockpit fuselage sections of previous Airbus models, which consist of a single lower shell to approximately floor level, Section 11 forming the upper structure immediately around the flight deck and Section 12 extending aft until just behind the first set of passenger doors, the A350 follows a different construction.

While the majority of the nose fuselage section will have a carbon reinforced plastic (CFRP) structure and panelling, Section 11 will be made of aluminium. Four composite panels will cover the remaining part of the fuselage frame structure: the nose upper shell extending aft from above the cockpit windows; left- and right-hand side panels including the respective passenger door apertures; and a single panel to cover the lower area of sections 11 and 12, which will be the largest of the four at approximately 30m².
The timing of this moment, which is far from immediately obvious, is not without note. With yesterday's departure of the first 787 for Japan and the announcement by Airbus of the shipping of MSN1's nose to St. Nazaire, I was reminded of an April 17, 2007 post authored about three weeks into the start of the experiment known as FlightBlogger. The post was a series of photos about the unveiling of ZA001's first Section 41 forward fuselage from Spirit AeroSystems. 

Both Boeing and Airbus/EADS charted similar (and notably different paths) on the respective supplier bases for their new products. In 2005, Spirit AeroSytems was created through the divestiture of Boeing's Wichita and Tulsa commercial airplanes operation to Onex in a $1.2 billion deal meant to raise cash for the 787's development. The move would create the world's largest aerostructures manufacturer on its first day in operation. 

The justification for the move was articulated by then-Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Alan Mulally: "Boeing will benefit from lower procurement costs and the Wichita/Tulsa operations now can grow by winning new business with other customers."

Not coincidentally, Spirit AeroSystems is now a first tier supplier on the A350, supplying the composite Section 15 panels of the center fuselage from its new Kinston, North Carolina facility, which are then shipped to St. Nazaire, France for integration. Spirit also builds the the wing's fixed leading edge and composite front spar.
Similarly, through its restructuring to pay for the A350 development, Aerolia was created through wholly-owned spinoff of EADS/Airbus in 2009, but its means of financing the new majority-composite jetliner was pursued differently. Rather than a complete divestiture, which remains in EADS's long-range plans, Aerolia was given the goal of diversifying its own customer base and sourcing its own funding. 
Aerolia generated revenues of around $1 billion in 2010 and expects this to grow by around 10% this year. Nearly all of its work is for Airbus, with 2-3% being for the French aerospace group Latécoère and Belgium-based Sonaca. However, by 2020 the Airbus work share is to form just half of Aerolia's work, while 25% is to come from Boeing and Sikorsky, and the remaining quarter is to be sourced from companies such as Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer, Eurocopter and Piaggio. Revenue is expected to hit $3 billion at the end of the decade.
Despite this separation, Aerolia remains as much Airbus as Airbus is for EADS. Though, the creation of Spirit and Aerolia illustrate the modern paths for creating and paying for the 21st century jetliners, but both also represent the dis-integration of the respective Airbus and Boeing manufacturing operations. Dis-integration is the natural trend of all organizations over time, as shown by industry life cycles in the Piepenbrock framework, but the creation of Aerolia and Spirit also illustrate the markedly different pace and progress along that dis-integration that is taking place between the two airframers.

Photo Credit Airbus, Rendering Credit Aerolia

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