Airbus is working hard to meet a target of 50 deliveries by this year’s end and has delivered its 24th A350-900 twin-aisle twinjet, the first to Cathay Pacific Airways, which is scheduled to enter service on June 1st. Airbus Chief Operating Officer Tom Williams has labeled the effort as one of two principal challenges for this year, the other being Airbus’s plans to accelerate the production of the A320 single-aisle twinjets. With over 40 widebody machines in the final stages of assembly in Toulouse, France, Executive Vice President Didier Evrard has placed a mandate to protect the A350 ramp-up project. Didier Evrard succeeded Williams last year as overseer of the programs and has said that the first 350-1000 variant, the 59th A350, is proceeding exactly on schedule.
In fact the first three A350s have all reached the final assembly stage and the mechanics have finished adding the new six-wheel landing-gear bogies to the first. Concurrently, in their other widebody programs, Airbus has already begun discussing a heavier option for the A330-900neo which is aimed at making the re-engined version of the A330-300 more competitive with the Boeing 787 which is the leading aircraft in its class. John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer has weighed in and admitted that with the current 287 seat A33-900 Neo weighing almost 242 metric ton maximum operating weight, falls laughably short of the 1,300 nautical miles offered by the 7,830-nm range of the 787-9 which can hold 283 passengers.
Airbus is internally exploring a 245 metric ton variant that would retain the A330’s Category B airport rating compared to the Boeing 777 which has a Category F rating or the 777X variant which has a Category E rating. Leahy states that the reason Airbus is looking into a higher weight option is that so the airline can carry additional fuel or more cargo to offset the advantages of the 787-9. And while structural subassemblies and equipment for the A330-900neo project remains on track, testing, certification, and scheduling of first flight won’t be happening until late 2017. Separately, Airbus has confirmed that it is still experiencing delays in the completion of the re-engined A320neo narrowbodies as they are still awaiting the updated PW1100G geared turbofan engines from Pratt & Whitney. As of late May, the 25 A320neos are just parked at Toulouse awaiting new powerplants that would allow them to reduce the initial start time and Klause Roewe, A320 family program head, expects delivery of the new engines to incorporate “very small modifications to shafts and compressors” by mid-June at the latest.
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