Airbus A350 Pits Eager Sales Force Against Wary Engineers

Airbus SAS said it must strike a balance in the ramp-up of its new A350 between a sales force seeking to push out planes and engineers advocating a slower approach to permit changes before too many aircraft are built.

The manufacturer wants to get production of the A350 up to three airliners a month by the end of next year so customers can get their planes on schedule, said Didier Evrard, who oversees the Toulouse, France-based company’s latest program. Until then, the aircraft must be put through 2,500 flight test hours to analyze data and fine tune systems for certification.

“We must be able not only to deliver the first planes, but to manage the scissor effect of technical challenges that have diminished in intensity with an industrial ramp-up that grows in intensity,” Evrard said in an interview at the Paris Air Show. “It’s a challenge for our suppliers as well.”

Lifting output while maintaining the flexibility for retroactive changes on a new plane was a challenge that also haunted Boeing Co. on its 787 Dreamliner, which had to undergo fixes in areas such as the tail cone and electrical wiring on dozens of airliners already built. John Leahy, Airbus’s sales chief, has said he would like to see output lifted on the A350 to fill additional slots, particularly for the largest variant.

Airbus is still analyzing the data gathered from the first A350 flight last week, sifting through as many as 5,000 parameters, as it prepares for a possible second test run tomorrow, depending on weather conditions, Evrard said.

The A350, made largely of lighter composite materials, aims to challenge both the Boeing Dreamliner and the larger 777. Airbus has sold 613 of the aircraft so far, with the mid-sized -900 accounting for about two thirds of the orders. By 2018, Airbus wants to more than triple production of the A350-900 to 10 units a month.

“If you have too much work in progress after entry into service, you have to change the planes and then you can’t deliver them,” Evrard, 59, said. “Less haste, more speed.”

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