Here's What's Keeping Airbus's Newest Jet on the Ground

  • Planemaker says turbine faces testing bottleneck at Rolls
  • Revamped wide-body won’t now fly until end of summer

Didier Evrard. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

Delays to the first flight of Airbus SE’s revamped A330neo jetliner stem from an unexpected requirement for extra testing of the model’s Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines, according to the planemaker.

Rolls-Royce is struggling to find the capacity on its test-beds to complete the extra trials, Airbus’s head of programs, Didier Evrard, said in an interview. That has pushed back the jet’s inaugural flight from spring to late summer, with service entry now scheduled for the end of the first half of 2018.

Didier Evrard

Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

While the A330neo’s Trent 7000 turbine is derived from an engine already used on the Boeing Co. 787, Rolls-Royce added ducts that will divert, or “bleed,” hot air over the Airbus plane’s wings for de-icing purposes. The Boeing aircraft employs a completely different cold-weather system featuring embedded heating mats.

“The main issue is not the product itself, it’s the workload at Rolls-Royce and, particularly, the testing capacity,” Evrard said. “We have added some functions like the bleed function, which is not on the 787, so you have to go on the whole development cycle again. This requires a lot of testing to certify the engine.”

Testing Bottleneck

London-based Rolls-Royce said in an emailed statement that it is continuing to work closely with Airbus on the A330neo program and that it aims to dispatch the initial set of Trent 7000 engines “in the coming days.”

Evrard acknowledged that the first turbines are “very close” to being packaged and sent to Airbus’s base in Toulouse, France, where the planemaker has two revised A330 airframes ready and waiting. The manufacturer has so far secured 210 orders for the upgraded plane, with TAP set to be its first operator. The Portuguese airline said in December that its first jet would be delayed into March 2018 from the end of this year. 

Rolls is also the sole provider of engines for Airbus’s A350 wide-body, which is ramping up production following 49 deliveries last year. The Trent XWB turbine for the largest -1000 variant of the plane is approaching certification. Meanwhile, a powerplant for the 787-10 is also in final development at the British manufacturer. 

While Rolls-Royce has expanded test facilities at its main plant in Derby, as well as in Germany and Spain, to cope with the workload, Evrard said the stresses are inevitable.

“Across the board there are production ramp-ups and new developments,” he said. “This is really what they have been struggling with.”

— With assistance by Julie Johnsson

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