Airbus engineers are working 13-hour days to get the company’s latest A350 plane off the ground in time to scoop the headlines at next month’s Paris air show.
A flight around the year’s biggest aviation expo, starting June 17, would let Airbus steal the limelight from Boeing, which aims to use the event to spur orders for an updated 777 and revitalize the 787 program hit by a months-long grounding.
Getting the wide-body A350 aloft would repeat Airbus’s splash at the last Paris show in 2011, which the European manufacturer dominated with $44 billion worth of orders for the A320neo.
While Boeing hit back at the 2012 Farnborough jamboree in England with a welter of deals for the 737 Max, the 787 troubles has taken the gloss off its French prospects.
“A first flight by Paris would bring a huge credibility boost for Airbus just as people are having doubts about Boeing’s execution,” according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president of U.S.-based Teal Group, who says the 787’s woes and slow progress with the 777 revamp give Airbus a “window of opportunity.”
Airbus’s first new jet since the A380 superjumbo won’t need to appear in Paris to be the top talking point, with a maiden takeoff from the Toulouse production site likely to be enough to outshine Boeing. The chances of a flight during the event rose when the first operational plane emerged from the paint shop yesterday, replete with an Airbus logo and A350 name on its white fuselage.
EADS Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm called the A350 program “challenging” today; “The important thing is that it’s a mature first flight” he said.
With the A350 due to enter commercial service with Qatar Airlines Ltd. by the end of next year, achieving a timely first flight would be a coup for Airbus after the 787 made its initial takeoff two years late and began deliveries three years overdue.
Airbus is in a position to land a blow against Boeing in Paris after taking a conservative approach in developing the A350 that sought to avoid the pitfalls of previous projects.
“The biggest lessons we can draw from the past is that we need to move from one step to the other on these big programs, without rushing,” Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said at last summer’s Farnborough show.
Since then, progress has been sufficiently brisk for A350 engineers to view mid-June as a target for its first flight, even if the official goal remains a less specific “mid-2013,” according to Bregier.
The A350’s Head of Program, Didier Evrard, is leading efforts to get the plane airborne, arriving at the factory before 7 a.m. and leaving after 8 p.m.
An A350 flight by mid-June could have a snowball effect for Airbus, building sales momentum for the A350-1000 variant due to begin deliveries in 2017, even as Boeing seeks to drum up orders for the competing 777X, according to Teal Group’s Aboulafia.
“Having the A350 fly by the Paris air show would be great from a prestige point of view. But they’ll only do it if they’re really comfortable. They’re not going to be pushed.” Said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at Agency Partners in London who has followed the aviation industry for 30 years.
Based on the article “Airbus A350’s Paint Job Points to Paris-Show Blow for Boeing” published in Bloomberg