26 September 2013
“Spirit has come a long way over the past 2 years and we have gotten rid of most of our headaches, but we still have to keep an eye on them”, Didier Evrard HO Program A350 XWB.
For program manager Didier Evrard, the start of flight testing only increases pressure to ensure that Airbus and its suppliers are gearing up production smoothly.
Manufacturing missteps have recently tripped up Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing developing and assembling the Airbus A380 superjumbo and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.
The A350 XWB, a two-engine intercontinental model designed to compete with Boeing's 787 and larger 777 models, is already more than one year late. Airbus has swallowed tens of millions of dollars in extra costs, in part due to troubles at its suppliers.
After problems with the superjumbo and Dreamliner, Mr. Evrard has made extra efforts to help Airbus suppliers, but concedes the process carries unknowns. "Taking on a supply partner is a bit like a marriage," Mr. Evrard said. "It's difficult to imagine how it's going to turn out on the first day.”
Roughly half of the A350's structure is made from carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites that are tricky to manufacture. Airbus and its suppliers have struggled to accelerate production of the precision parts.
One of the biggest headaches Mr. Evrard said he has faced is with Spirit AeroSystems Inc.
The Wichita, Kansas based company has been building airplane parts for decades, but only for Boeing, from which it was spun off in 2005.
At one point last year, Airbus had more than 140 engineers and technicians working with Spirit to iron out problems.
"It took some time to realize the extent of the challenge, as [Spirit] had overestimated their capability," Mr. Evrard said at an Airbus technology presentation.
Spirit says the problems stemmed from the A350's novelty. "We believe that the issues we have been experiencing are normal at this stage of a program for bringing a brand-new airplane to market," said Spirit spokesman Ken Evans.
Issues at Spirit came as a surprise to Airbus, which selected the U.S. supplier largely because of its experience with Boeing. Mr. Evrard said Spirit hadn't fully adapted to independence and was accustomed to Boeing monitoring its suppliers.
To address this, Airbus commissioned an external audit of Spirit's internal processes. This allowed engineers and managers from Airbus to help Spirit improve its supply-chain management, Mr. Evrard said.
Spirit has "come a long way over the past 2 years and we have gotten rid of most of our headaches," Mr. Evrard said. "But we still have to keep an eye on them”.
Airbus is ramping up A350 production as a boom in demand for smaller passenger jets is stretching aviation suppliers' capacity to meet increasing demands from Airbus and Boeing.
"Suppliers are dealing with a double squeeze from the ramp-up in production at Airbus and Boeing as well as the need to gear up for their new programs," said Christophe Menard, an aviation-sector analyst at Paris brokerage house Kepler Cheuvreux.
Supply-chain disruptions are "a real risk" for Airbus on the A350, Mr. Menard said
Based on the article “Airbus Aiming for A350 Maiden Flight Within Days” published in Dow Jones Business News