Airbus A350 Wings Production on Track With Hole-Drilling Fixed

Airbus SAS said it’s overcome production glitches on the wings for its new A350 wide-body aircraft and a set for the first flying test plane will arrive at the final assembly line in southern France next week.

The factory in Wales, where wings for all Airbus planes are built, reprogrammed the software that guides machines to drill 6,000 holes in each wing, and successfully shipped five units within five weeks in September and early October, the program director said.

Construction of the A350 wings differs from other Airbus jets, as the A350 wing lies flat during manufacturing, with a machine hovering overhead to perform the drilling. The A350 is largely built from lighter composite materials, making assembly more complex than with metal. Delivery of the wing slipped by a month because of difficulty drilling the holes, which are done by a robot rather than manually.

“This is a brand new process, it’s our first-ever horizontal build, the first time we’ve ever built a wing for a commercial aircraft in composites, and in the early sets we had some refinements to make to that drilling process,” Trevor Higgs, the head of A350 wings, said in an interview.

The A350 is Airbus’s attempt to gain a bigger slice of the long-range airliner market, a segment now dominated by Boeing Co. and its popular 777. Airbus was three years late on its last major program, the A380 double-decker jumbo, and Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said the company has learned from that experience as well as delays on the Boeing 787.

The wing provides lift for the plane and also carries fuel. Each wing requires the holes so that the upper and lower skin can be attached to ribs that run through the structure.

Airbus will begin piecing together the wings with the fuselage and tail section later this month, following an official inauguration on Oct. 23 of the facility in Toulouse, where Airbus is based. Airbus also makes the A380 jumbo and the A330 wide-body in Toulouse, while factories in both Toulouse and Hamburg assemble the A320 single-aisle models.

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