Airbus Will Restrict A350 Cabin Customizations to Avoid Pitfalls of A380

Airbus SAS is putting stricter controls on how airlines can custom-design the cabins of A350 widebody planes after a multitude of requests for different interiors for the A380 led to cost overruns and delays.

The planemaker, based in Toulouse, France, sees a much larger market for planes of the A350’s size than the A380 and aims to avoid delays, said Tom Williams, executive vice president of aircraft programs.

The A350, which will challenge Boeing Co.’s 777 and 787 models, is set for entry into service in 2013, with 530 orders from 33 customers. The A380 began service in late 2007, 2 1/2 years late and 50 percent over budget, having notched up development costs of 18 billion euros ($25 billion). Airbus has struggled to satisfy each airline’s different requests, spanning showers, cocktail bars and private suites in some cases.

“Where we got into trouble, and where we continue to get into trouble in the last couple of years, has been with customization,” Williams said today in a briefing at Airbus’s wing-building facility in Broughton, U.K. “If you look at what we’re doing with the A350, we have had a much more rigorous approach to A350 customization.”

Williams said airlines will be able to pick and choose the placement of seats, galleys, bathrooms or in-flight entertainment within the confines of a “background” template.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Gulf carrier Emirates are among those that have embraced cabin customization in order to make their A380s flagships.

A350 Range

Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., has 27 A380s flying commercially today and has won a total of 202 orders. The company has forecast that aircraft operators may buy about 1,300 very large passenger planes over 20 years. That would include Boeing 747-8s. By contrast, it’s predicting sales of 5,000 aircraft with 250 to 300 seats over 20 years, a category that includes the A350.

The European company plans to debut the new range with an A350-900. That will be followed by the A350-800, planned for 2014. An even larger variant, the A350-1000, is scheduled to enter service in late 2015, Airbus said today.

Another lesson learned from past aircraft programs, including the A380, is that difficulties arise when customers buy seats, in-flight entertainment and other equipment for Airbus to install before delivery. Five aircraft were affected by a ruling last year from the European Aviation Safety Agency that withdrew approval for seats made by Yokohama, Japan-based Koito Industries Ltd. With the A350, Airbus will buy seats and in-flight entertainment systems directly.

Secure Supply Chain

The shift will allow the planemaker to “secure the supply chain,” Francois Caudron, an Airbus vice president, said today in a webcast. Airlines will still choose the supplier and negotiate the price, however.

Airbus is also still talking to engine makers Pratt & Whitney and CFM International, a joint venture of Safran SA and General Electric Co., about possible plans to put new engines on existing A320 planes, Williams said today. The business case has yet to be “finalized,” he said.

Production of the A380 superjumbos is now “on the right track,” with a goal of 20 deliveries this year, double the pace of last year, Williams said. Design changes underway on the plane will add 100 nautical miles to its range, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse, France at aerothman@bloomberg.net.

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