Airbus A350 Aims to Cut Production Time 30 Percent

Airbus SAS said it aims to cut the time needed to assemble an A350 aircraft by 30 percent compared with the A330 wide-body jet by prefabricating more parts in the run-up to its first airworthy model in coming months.

Workers have begun fitting out the cabin at different points in Europe before major chunks of the aircraft are pieced together at the Toulouse headquarters in southern France. Airbus is also working on two levels at each station, with the ground dedicated to structures, while workers on an upper floor equip the interior with galleys, seats and systems.

Airbus wants to prevent the logjams the manufacturer endured in the middle of the last decade when putting together the double-decker A380 model. That plane entered service almost three years late, with developing costs ballooning to more than 18 billion euros ($22 billion) from a planned 12 billion amid challenges with cabin wiring work on the assembly floor.

“If we want to streamline things, then we need to be able to pull back to an earlier stage more of the activities, and we need to be able to do things in parallel,” said Gerard Castaing, who oversees the assembly process for the A350, set for entry into service in mid 2014. Castaing also designed the A380 assembly process.

The A350 has 548 firm orders from 34 customers, the majority for the A350-900. The smaller A350-800 version and the larger A350-1000 variant aren’t scheduled for service until 2017. Airbus initially said the program would cost about 11 billion euros to develop and so far has not revised that figure.

Construction Under Way

Construction of the A350 final assembly line involved investment costs of 140 million euros. The dedicated area includes aircraft halls, offices, workshops and logistics areas, as well as taxiways and roads.

Construction is under way on an additional building after plans to take over A330 assembly areas for the A350 were foiled by the lasting success of the older model. Airbus had planned to wind down A330 production, though Boeing Co.’s three-year delay on the 787 Dreamliner led to an increase in orders.

Airbus expects to ramp up to building 10 A350s a month by 2018, Castaing said. The plant has about 300 workers, a figure that will double by year end and rise to 1,000 by the end of 2013. Assembling a single A350 will take four weeks. The structure of the A350 is about 50 percent composite materials, compared with 25 percent on the A380.

(Correct number of jets to be produced monthly by 2018 in last paragraph.)
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